Apple Maps step-by-step walking guidance in augmented reality comes to Tokyo

I should have guessed that when I found the ‘Refine Location’ icon looking at me this morning, something else was up. Indeed, a closer inspection revealed that Apple Maps activated step-by-step walking guidance in augmented reality for the Tokyo area. No idea if other regions such as Osaka and Nagoya have also gotten it, kinda hard to check without being on site. I’ll update this post if new region details emerge.

It’s nice that Apple is finally doing something more with their Japanese image collected data than just Look Around and AR walking guidance has to be in place for iOS 16 indoor station maps. AR walking guidance is the perfect fit for a new kind indoor maps that navigate users through intricate, information dense underground station mazes like Shinjuku, Tokyo and Ikebukuro, the very places where Apple Image Collection backpacks are busy collecting data. We’ll find out at WWDC22. In the meantime it will be fun giving the new feature a good real world shakedown.

WWDC22 Wish List

It is hard to be enthusiastic about this year’s WWDC when Apple’s entire integrated software/hardware business model is coming under attack. With so much distraction these days there’s not much of a wish list, just a few observations for Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Text Layout.

Apple Pay
First up of course, is Apple Pay. After Jennifer Bailey’s WWDC21 appearance where she announced keys and ID for iOS 15 Wallet, and the separate Tap to Pay on iPhone announcement in January, I don’t think Jennifer will be in the WWDC22 keynote. She’s not going to appear just to explain that Apple Pay is not a monopoly, that’s Tim’s job with CEO level pay grade, nor is she doing to appear to just flesh out details of what’s already there. That’s what sessions are for, explaining things that I have been wishing for these past few years: an easier, more open Secure Element Pass certification process and/or new frameworks for developers to access the secure element for payments or use Tap to Pay on iPhone. There needs to a clearer path for developers who want to use the secure element for payments (Wallet) or iPhone as payment terminal (Tap to Pay on iPhone).

Apple needs to open up the NFC/Secure Element Pass certification process or clarify the process

The only possible ‘new’ Apple Pay Wallet feature I can think of is the ‘so long in the works it has gone moldy’ Code Payments. Lurking in the code shadows since iOS 13 or so, it has been around so long that Apple legal inserted official mention in a recent Apple Pay & Privacy web page update: “When you make a payment using a QR code pass in Wallet, your device will present a unique code and share that code with the pass provider to prevent fraud.” If Apple Pay delivers native device generated QR code payments without a network connection, just like all Apple Pay cards to date, it would be quite a coup but by itself, is not worth a Jennifer Bailey appearance. Other future goodies like passport in Wallet or My Number ID in Wallet are too far out to merit mention.


Apple Maps
The only new Apple Maps feature that suggests itself is Indoor Maps for stations. That’s the conclusion I come up after examining the current (February ~ May 2022) backpack image collection in Tokyo, Osaka/Kyoto and Nagoya. It is highly focused on centrally located above ground and underground station areas. Stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo are entirely underground surrounded with extensive maze like malls.

This means Apple image collection backpacks are going inside for the first time. They are either collecting data instead of images, or doing it at pre-arranged times when people are scarce. This is hard to do at a place like Shinjuku station as there are multiple companies collectively managing the entire site (JR East, Odakyu, Keio, Seibu, Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation, Tokyo Metro, just to name a few).

So far Apple has only used their image collection in Japan for Look Around, but the current version of Look Around doesn’t make sense for station interiors unless it is heavily modified with augmented reality place labels, directions for exits, transit gates and so on. The Apple indoor maps model for airports and malls is outdated and impossible to retrofit for information dense, tightly packed Japanese stations.

Apple needs come up with something new for indoor station maps to be successful on any level. The current version of AR walking guidance only works outdoors as the camera has to scan and match surrounding building profiles. A hybrid of stored Look Around images and AR walking guides might be a way forward. Station maps have special needs to seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor guidance modes as users leave or enter stations on their walking route to the final destination.

Recent image collection suggests Indoor Station Maps might be coming in iOS 16

I’m not holding my breath but anything is better than what we have now and Apple is certainly up to something. A new and improved, AR enhanced “Look Around” style indoor map for stations would be far more useful for Japanese iPhone users than airports or shopping malls. Nobody does indoor maps well by the way, including Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps.

As most readers of this blog already know, I am not optimistic that Apple Maps in Japan can become a top tier digital map service. The local 3rd party map and transit data suppliers that Apple depends on to make up the bulk of the Japanese service are certainly not top tier and old problems remain unfixed. In the case of the main Japanese map data supplier things have deteriorated.

IPC was 100% owned by Pioneer supplying their car navigation system data, but was sold to Polaris Capital Group June 1, 2021 with a new CEO (ex Oracle Japan) named the same day. In January 2022 IPC was renamed GeoTechnologies Inc. Under hedge fund Polaris Capital Group management, GeoTechnologies has been busy inflating the number of cushy company director positions, never a good sign, and pushing out shitty ad-ware apps like Torima. The focus is leveraging assets not building them.

Apple’s Japanese map problem can only be fixed by dumping GeoTechnologies for Zenrin, or Apple mapping all of Japan themselves. Apple is not pursuing either option, the image collection effort in Japan is limited and its use remains restricted to Look Around. Until this changes, expect more of the same old Japanese map problems in iOS 16 and beyond. Apple Maps is a collection of many different service parts. Some evolve and improve, some do not. Let’s hope for a good outcome with the data Apple is collecting for indoor station maps.


Apple Typography TextKit 2 migration
WWDC21 saw the unveiling of TextKit 2, the next generation replacement for the 30 year old TextKit, older than QuickDraw GX even, but much less capable. TextKit 2 marked the start of a long term migration with most of TextKit 2 initially ‘opt in’ for compatibility. We’ll find out how much of TextKit 2 will evolve to default on with an ‘opt out’. There are holes to fill too: the iOS side didn’t get all the TextKit 2 features of macOS such as UITextView (multiline text), some of the planned features like NSTextContainer apparently didn’t make the final cut either. We should get a much more complete package at WWDC22. Once the TextKit 2 transition is complete, I wonder if a Core Text reboot is next.


watchOS 9 Express Cards with Power Reserve?
Mark Gurman reported that watchOS 9 will have “a new low-power mode that is designed to let its smartwatch run some apps and features without using as much battery life.” While this sounds like Express Cards with Power Reserve (transit cards, student ID, hotel-home-car-office keys) and it might even mimic the iPhone feature to some degree, I doubt it will be a full blown version. Power Reserve is a special mode where iOS powers down itself down but leaves the lights on for direct secure element NFC transactions. iOS isn’t involved at all.

Real Power Reserve requires Apple Watch silicon that supports the hardware feature, it cannot be added with a simple software upgrade. Until that happens, a new watchOS 9 low-power mode means that watchOS still babysits Express Cards, but anything that gives us better battery life than what we have now is a good thing.

Enjoy the keynote and have a good WWDC.

Comparing Apple Maps JP Look Around pedestrian additions

One of the side benefits when digging into the mysterious disappearance and reappearance Look Around in Hiroshima back in March 2021 was that I copied the links for listed pedestrian image collection points for March 2021~October 2021. The links are neat in that they preciously show what map points were collected. The links can no longer be accessed from the Image Collection page but still work.

Most, but not all, of the pedestrian image collected areas were added to Look Around recently. Public places such are as parks are there, but university campuses, shrines and temples are not. Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples are officially public property in same category are parks but it’s not clear why Apple does not include there in Look Around when Google Maps includes them in Street View. Another mystery for another day. In the mean time have fun exploring Look Around in big grassy areas in river parks:

Miyagi
Sendai
Tomiya

Tokyo
Shinjuku
Chiyoda
Machida

Kanagawa
Yokohama
Fujisawa
Zushi
Yamato

Ishikawa
Kanazawa
Hakusan
Nonochi
Kawakita

Hiroshima
Hiroshima City
Nisogi
Hatsukaichi
Yano

Fukuoka
Fukuoka City
Kasuga
Itoshima
Kasuya-gun

Kagawa
Takamatsu
Sanuki

Apple Maps Japan Real-Time Transit is fake

I was surprised to see Japan listed for real-time transit in the iOS Feature Availability page. It’s a recent addition but nothing has changed in iOS 15 Apple Maps Japan transit directions, it’s delivering exactly the same transit info since the iOS 15 release, which itself was the same as iOS 14. Apple is slapping a new label on an old product.

It’s helpful to compare Japan so-called real-time transit with other regions that have had it for some time: Boston, New York, Los Angles.

Scheduled vs On-time departure
It’s very easy way to tell when real-time transit is real: upcoming departure time will display a colored network icon, green for on-time, red for delay. There are other real-time departure time notifications for updated departure-times and cancelled trains. This is the basic ‘real’ real-time transit benchmark.

More advanced Apple Maps real-time transit locations also incorporate train positions on the map and in the time schedule sheet but not all real-time listed regions have this (Boston does, NYC does not, etc.).

the most advanced real-time transit regions display train position on the map

Apple Maps JP transit directions only show static scheduled departure times pulled from the transit supplier time table server, the same data since Japan transit launched in October 2016. Static ‘scheduled’ times do not update regardless of delay or stoppage warnings. The result is confusing, unreliable transit information that Apple calls ‘real-time transit’.

Google Maps JP, of course, does it real. Here’s a comparison of the different information presented by Apple and Google for the same delay on the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line. Google updates departure times, Apple does not.

Google incorporates live train positions and also include train car and station crowdedness information…all missing from Apple Maps.

Google Maps Japan real-time train positions

As Apple and Google both use the same transit information supplier Jourdan you would expect them to deliver the same service quality, but this is not the case. Why? Google Maps also incorporate real-time transit information from JR Group companies and private transit operators. JR East for example supplies live train position and individual car information (crowdedness, temperature) that they use for their own app to the Public Transportation Open Data Center (PTODC). Japanese real-time transit information is readily available but Apple Maps does not go the extra step of incorporating this information and advertise static scheduled transit times as ‘real-time’.

Apple Maps Japan faux real-time transit appears to be the same situation for Taiwan and Hong Kong, both listed for ‘real-Time’. Taken together with the Sea of Japan deletion and other indications of (willful?) cultural ignorance, it’s another sign that Apple Maps is lost in Japan.

UPDATE 2022-03-22: Apple has removed Japan from Real-Time Transit. A sloppy mistake or something else? Either way it’s in line with the Apple Maps JP ‘half progress, half incompetence’ experience.