Apple started rolling out Look Around expansions in Tokyo (including Tokyo Islands), Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto and Osaka on 2023-05-12 covering most if not all of the public roads in those prefectures, along with capital city or select city and district additions for Aichi, Hyogo, Gunma, Okayama, Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures.
This is the largest Look Around expansion in Japan since the August 2020 ‘Tokyo Olympics’ kickoff launch. Yet redesigned ‘New Maps’ with Apple proprietary cartography seen in America and recent European rollouts remain an elusive goal after five years of Apple Maps image collection. There has been discussion on social media about when redesigned Apple Maps are coming to Japan, but most people are confused about how much is really mapped at this point. Even Justin O’Beirne initially listed Japan as a 2023 new maps candidate then wisely removed it.
The confusion is understandable. People assume entire prefectures have been mapped when this is not the case, easy to do if you don’t live here and imagine that Japan is a small, easy to map island country. You can only appreciate how big Japan is and how circuitous the roads are by driving them.
Apple has a simple formula for image collection in Japan: Cities + Districts = Prefectures. They don’t bother with other classifications (prefectures, villages, towns, etc.), only cities and districts. Apple starts with select key cities in a prefecture then gradually adds less populated cities and districts over several mapping seasons until an entire prefecture is mapped. This could be changing.
The entire Apple Maps Image Collection 2023 schedule for Japan was pulled just as it was due to start on February 1 then reposted in early March with new dates running three months shorter than the original schedule and a new collection area covering all unmapped sections of Aichi Prefecture. Yamanashi Prefecture is also on the schedule and will be the first prefecture Apple is mapping in one season (March~October 2023). Perhaps this is a new faster paced image collection strategy, we shall see.
To explain the situation, I have come up with (what else?) a map that hopefully clearly shows the piecemeal image collection in easy to understand terms of what’s mapped and what’s not. Highlighting every city and district is way too much detail so I chose color coded prefectures in 3 categories:
- Mostly Mapped Prefectures
‘Mostly mapped’ because Apple only maps public roads (city, district, prefecture, national). In Japan there are lots of publicly used local community maintained roads classified as ‘private roads‘ that Apple does not map (nearly 40% of all roads in my city), that Google does. This means there are significant dead spots in areas ‘completely covered’ by Apple Maps image collection vans and backpacks and this has lots of implications not only for redesigned map cartography, Look Around, AR Walking Directions, etc., but overall quality and usefulness.
- Partially Mapped Prefectures
Major metropolis areas that include surrounding parts of multiple neighboring prefectures: Greater Tokyo (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki), Greater Osaka (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo), Greater Nagoya (Mie). For some reason Apple has not mapped traditional greater area region prefectures like Gifu (Greater Nagoya) and Wakayama (Greater Osaka).
- Selectively Mapped Prefectures
Capital cites in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Niigata, Ishikawa, Ehime, Kumamoto prefectures. Capital and/or select cities in Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kagawa, Mie.
As the graph clearly shows, Apple Maps image collection in Japan has a long way to go: by the end of 2023 out of 47 prefectures, 8 will be completely mapped, 4 will be partially mapped, 13 selectively mapped, 22 will remain completely unmapped. The gradual expansion means redesigned proprietary New Maps and the services connected with them, Detailed City Experiences, 3D landmarks, etc., are not coming in 2023, 2024 or even 2025, not unless Apple greatly accelerates its image collection pace. Those features cannot happen until Apple image collection vans map all of Japan, including private roads as Google does. If New Maps and the features that depend on them magically appear before the job is done, it will mean one thing: the map data isn’t Apple’s and isn’t proprietary. They have to get the missing pieces from someone.
I still think Indoor Station Maps with AR directions are in the works (likely for WWDC23) but Japan maps are stuck with 3rd rate GeoTechnologies supplied cartography and will be for some time to come. And believe me, the pretty looking map details don’t match the ground truth outside of metropolitan areas. In short, Apple Maps in Japan has been, and will remain, the all bets off outliner for redesigned maps and associated features.
Not that it matters much for iPhone users in Japan: 80% of Japanese iPhone users don’t use Apple Maps. Mind share and market share has long been dominated by Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps. That is not going to change. Take the current state of Look Around for example. Say you are a real estate business and you link available houses and rental apartments with an online mapping service. With Google Maps you are assured that potential buyers can use Street View to examine everything because Street View covers all areas including private roads. Not so with Look Around. It’s for this reason I think Apple Maps Business Connect will be a tough sell in Japan when so many potential business locations are literally off the Look Around map. Until things change in a big way, going with Google Maps for business is a no brainer.
Apple updated existing pre-expansion Look Around areas with 2022 image data, including backpack images of station areas. Re-mapped driven areas appear to be limited to central areas and underground roadways such as the Yamanote Expressway. New features include:
Look Around in-station areas
Main stations now include backpack collected images for station entrance areas (outside the transit gates) and connecting corridors to shopping areas and stations, but no station indoor maps or AR directions. This first appearance of indoor Look Around images in Japan suggests more is coming: the current implementation is hard to use as it does not have the ability to switch between layered above and below ground Look Around views. Lots of backpack image collected underground stations mapped in 2022 have yet to appear.
POI Look Around
Look Around areas with Point of Interest (POI) labels as also expanded to most Look Around JP areas incorporating 2022 collected images but is mostly limited to central areas in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka. Tokyo for example is mostly limited to wards ‘inside’ or ‘along side’ the Yamanote Line, though Tokyo areas with 2022 refreshed imagery are likely to have them. Look Around #2, #3, #4 (Hiroshima, Niigata, Sapporo, Kanazawa, etc.) also have POI Look Around in central areas. Look Around areas without POI labels have labels for major bridges, roads, stations and other important navigation landmarks.
Apple is rolling out the Look Around #5 expansion. All of it seems loaded but not fully optimized. Shizuoka expansions are not showing as available, for example, even though Look Around views can be seen by zooming in from adjacent available areas.
Kumamoto City Look Around has been taken offline, there was a large hole in the central famous Kumamoto Castle area that needed to be fixed. As with the Shizuoka additions, it may take a while before optimizations and the rollout are completed and available.
The gallery below shows new Look Around views.
- Look Around #1 August 2020: Greater Tokyo, Greater Osaka, Greater Nagoya
- Look Around #2 January 2021: Fukuoka City, Hiroshima City, Nara (Greater Osaka), Takamatsu City
- Look Around #3 May 2021: Sendai City, Kanazawa City
- Look Around #4 May 2022: Sapporo City, Niigata City, Shizuoka City, Akashi City
- Look Around #5 May 2023: Tokyo Metropolis including Tokyo Islands, Chiba Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture, Maebashi City, Takasaki City, Okayama City, Kita-Kyushu City, Kumamoto City
When will Japan get Apple’s New Maps? Part 1 and Part 2: the private road problem
2022 mapping season: the basis for Look Around #5 expansion in 2023
The original Apple Maps image collection Japan schedule for 2023 posted in January, pulled, then reposted 2023-03-30 with new collection dates (March 30~October 30) and new collection areas for Aichi Prefecture. This will be the basis for Look Around #6 expansion in 2024.
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