I’m not exactly sure when Siri added Japan Transit directions, but it didn’t work 3 weeks ago. I had basically given up hope on this Apple Maps wish list item, but had some free time today to kill with Apple Watch and viola. Transit directions. Transit is tricky because place names, especially Japanese place names and directions, depend on the context. For example when I asked iPhone Siri for the ‘next train to Gotanda’, I got a few route options to a place in Iwate prefecture. When I asked for the ‘next train to Gotanda station‘, iPhone Siri got it right. Apple Watch Siri however got it right every time.
Based on Siri tests in JP language mode so far, it seems like a solid service addition that users will find useful. I suspect it will be a very nice fit with AirPods Pro and will give it the noisy station acid test. It will be interesting to see online reactions and analysis from Japanese users. It will also be interesting to see if or when Apple announces transit directions for Siri. Traffic has been showing for months in Apple Maps Japan with no official listing on the iOS feature availability page.
Some Japanese Twitter users have noticed and are complaining (tongue in cheek faux “how dare you” angry Greta style) that Apple Maps no longer displays the Sea of Japan name in English or even Japanese language settings. It may be connected with recent South Korean moves to get international recognition of ‘East Sea’ instead of, or in conjunction with Sea of Japan, which failed. For reference, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps display the Sea of Japan but Google uses different place naming depending on the device region setting, a realistic and user friendly compromise.
Some suggested that Apple might be preparing to follow the Google Map naming method with updated map assets, but after more than a year of no name instead of Sea of Japan, that isn’t the excuse. This is Apple playing international politics. Removing a place name altogether is a boneheaded move that appeases nobody. It is the worst kind of big tech censorship we don’t need.
Apple finally delivered Apple Maps 2.0 for all users in the United States, one month past their original ‘end of 2019’ deadline. The press release showcases the new details and includes a Eddie Cue quote about what’s next for Apple Maps 2.0: “We look forward to bringing this new map to the rest of the world starting with Europe later this year.” Europe later this year doesn’t jive with Apple’s earlier WWDC19 promise to deliver a Tokyo Olympics ready Apple Maps. When it comes to all things Apple Maps, a promise is the plastic twisty for tying up the garbage bag of broken dreams.
Since Apple only made that promise to a few Japanese journalists instead of English language media, perhaps it doesn’t matter. If they are serious however, Apple can still deliver a limited sub-set of Apple Maps 2.0 features that would be very useful for iOS users in time for the July 24~August 9 event.
Real-time transit Forget the the real time label nonsense, Google Maps is far better delivering real important Tokyo transit details from the same suppliers that Apple does not: station platform numbers, optimum car exit positions, crowd status, and last but not least refreshable transit search results. No more dead data. Better Tokyo area public transit information is the single most important and useful map item that Apple needs to improve.
Apple can also improve the service with better transit integration between iPhone and Apple Watch. Apple Watch would be far more useful with turn by turn like notifications for transit. The current version of Apple Watch transit goes off the rails whenever iPhone Apple Maps is in the background.
Indoor Maps Apple Indoor Maps are limited to airports and malls, nice but not very useful. Major stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shinagawa, etc. must be added as they will major travel points during the Olympics. These areas are the Godzilla of indoor mapping: they are massive, insanely dense structures. Google Maps and Yahoo Japan maps don’t do it particularly well, but at least it is there and Google Maps has multi-lingual support which Yahoo Japan Maps does not.
August 2020 UPDATE Apple Maps updated Japan maps with Look Around for the greater Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya areas, and a full set of IPC data which has been available all these years, but Apple didn’t, or couldn’t, integrate it for some reason until now. Whether Apple call this ‘new maps’ or not isn’t clear. And at any rate it is not Apple collected map data.
Apple Pay Ventra The native Chicago Ventra transit card on Apple Pay is a big deal that was announced back in March. It represents the first major native transit card for the USA on Apple Pay. The much smaller Portland transit system HOP card landed safely in Wallet in May, but Ventra is still listed as ‘coming soon.’ The fault is not with Apple but with Cubic Transportation Systems who operate transit fare systems for Ventra, New York OMNY, Transport for London (TfL) Oyster, Sydney Opal, Washington DC Metro, and many more. For all of their supposed system expertise, Cubic was extremely slow rolling out Apple Pay Express Transit on TfL and has yet to deliver a single native transit card on Apple Pay or Google Pay. I hope Cubic does a better job in 2020.
Apple Pay Octopus The Apple Pay Octopus ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ saga of 2019 was strange and ultimately sad. The Apple support side was all ready to roll with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited announced Apple Pay support back in July with ‘coming soon’ website artwork that was pulled when the launch was officially delayed on December 19. My take is that OCL parent Hong Kong MTR made, or was forced into, a political decision to limit services, starting with the unexplained service outage of Smart Octopus during the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege. This is not a popular opinion.
Readers have reported riot damage to MTR infrastructure and suggest this might be a reason for the Apple Pay Octopus delay. I don’t buy it. Hong Kong MTR, or someone higher up, wants to limit services and control movement, not open them up. But this introduces great risk: moving people are moving money. Limit services and the flow of people, and you limit the flow of money. In this scenario Hong Kong doesn’t have a future. More than anything, I hope Hong Kong gets it’s future back in 2020.
Yahoo Japan Maps has the best cartography in Japan in comparison with Apple and Google and remains the local leader. They are the only major map that gets notoriously difficult map places like Shinjuku station just right for road and rail navigation. No fuss, no layer on/off nonsense. And they keep improving things like the latest cartography tweaks. Compare today’s Shinjuku station screenshots at the same zoom level and see for yourself: