Apple Maps Japan in-app restaurant reservations

Kagaku.com Inc. subsidiary Tabelog is one of the restaurant data suppliers for Apple Maps Japan. The recent Tabelog v6 app update added Apple Map third party extension support for restaurant reservations. Reservations are straightforward and similar to what OpenTable does in America.

After you install the Tabelog app it will show up in the Settings>Maps. When you tap on a restaurant that supports Tabelog reservations Apple Maps will display a reservation button.

Tap reservations and you can set the date, time and number of people.

Once you set the reservation and tap “Continue in Tabelog” you’ll get the inevitable ‘Sign in with Facebook, Google ID, Yahoo Japan ID, etc.’ This is where it falls down for me because you still have to enter name and telephone number after login with a Yahoo JAPAN ID. I have not tested the other login methods, it may be a smoother experience with a Kagaku.com ID that has a name and phone number attached.

It’s a nice exercise but I doubt many people will actually use it: restaurant search results in Apple Maps do not indicate which restaurants accept Tabelog reservations. It’s much easier to search in the Tabelog app which has a handy in-app map that displays a Google Map with Tabelog pin overlays indicating nearby restaurants that take reservations and vacancy. Chalk up another miss for Apple Maps.

Google Maps in Tabelog
Google Maps in Tabelog indicates restaurants that take reservations and vacancy
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Why Apple Pay Suica is a success and Apple Maps is not

Inbound Apple Pay Suica user experiences are endlessly fascinating and occasionally enlightening. This tweet video captures the usual ‘whoa, that’s fast’ first time reaction.

The responses are equally interesting with a few ‘so what? we have that in (London, Moscow, China, etc.)’ which is true but it’s not the same. Almost all of them are slower, don’t have e-money functions, don’t have nationwide coverage and are not hosted natively on pay platforms like Apple Pay or Google Pay. They rely on slow buggy EMV contactless credit card transactions on transit gates instead, in short they are not transit payment platforms.

Apple Pay Suica is clearly a great service and success that has not only changed contactless payments in Japan but changed Apple as well, with Apple incorporating global FeliCa and implementing A-12 Bionic powered Express Card with power reserve technology which matches the performance of dedicated Sony FeliCa Chips on the A-Series.

What makes Apple Pay Suica a success? It is a unique layering of hardware and software that tightly integrates into a single seamless experience. At the core is the basic Suica IC card format and the transit gate system technology created by JR East and Sony in the 1980s to solve a user experience problem with magnetic commuter pass cards. Successive layers were added over time: e-money, nationwide Transit IC card interoperability, and perhaps most important of all, Mobile Suica. The Super Suica additions will further enhance the fundamental technology in 2021.

Apple Pay support arrived in October 2016, global FeliCa was added in 2017. These were 2 layers from Apple that fit perfectly and extended the entire platform with a whole new ease of use service level. The result is a service where each layer builds on and enhances the whole. This is Steve Jobs 101: work from the user experience back to the technology so that the total experience is greater than the sum of the parts.


The Apple Maps problem
Contrast this with Apple Maps. Justin O’Beirne recently published a detailed progress report of Apple’s ‘new’ (in America only) map. There was surprisingly little discussion on tech blog sites, Nick Heer was one of the few to share a few observations. O’Beirne and Heer both focus on data collection and prioritization as the core problem for Apple to fix if Apple is ever going to close the map gap with Google. I think that is a misconception that got Apple Maps in trouble in the first place.

I’ve never seen data collection as the biggest problem that Apple needs to fix. In Japan for example the data collection problem can be solved quickly by swapping out 3rd rate data suppliers with first tier JP suppliers like Zenrin who already field large data collection and verification teams. Google and Yahoo Maps Japan both use Zenrin and build on top of that solid foundation with their own data.

Integration and coordination have been, and continue to be the biggest problem. If Apple cannot do a good job integrating and coordinating different map service layers so that they build on each other, it will continue to be what it is now: a collection of loosely connected technology services that don’t work together very well and tend to pull each other down instead of up. A few examples:

  • Transit
    Apple has a very good Japanese transit data supplier Jourdan, the same one Google uses. Unfortunately the good transit data gets wasted by the limited search and sort App Maps transit UI that is completely manual, doesn’t dynamically update travel times or arrival estimates, or even provide location-based alerts when you arrive. Those kinds of integrated transit notifications on Apple Watch alone would sell a lot more devices.
  • Siri
    Siri is one the most important service layers for integrating navigation, transit and indoor maps. Unfortunately Siri is poorly connected where it should be hooked into every nook and cranny. Japanese Siri can locate the nearest station, usually, but that’s it. Siri doesn’t do transit searches or suggestions.
  • Navigation
    Turn by turn has been offered in Japan for a few years but it still basically useless without traffic information, which is still missing. Lane Guidance was only added just recently.
  • Data Duplication
    This happens all the time as Apple fails at coordinating and verifying data sets from different JP suppliers.

And so on. I included data duplication as it illustrates my basic point that no matter how good the basic data collection is, it’s worthless without a robust integration and coordination process. A smart team of human editors with deep local knowledge understand how services should connect, what works and how it should work. A truly  great team also knows how to focus and do more, much more, with less. This is impossible to achieve with the current one size fits all mentality.

Apple Maps Japan is a classic ‘the total is less than the sum of its parts‘ product. To be sure there are some good parts, but in Japan they don’t add up. The different layers stay separate and never integrate into a seamless whole like Apple Pay Suica does. It’s great that Apple is making process with its map reboot effort in America but the real test will be how well they integrate it all. A laser focus and smart integration is the only way Apple can close the map gap with Google.

Apple Maps Japan adds Lane Guidance

Apple Maps Japan Lane Guidance
Land Guidance addition to Apple Maps Japan

Like the recently added Indoor Maps for Narita International Airport, Apple Maps has silently added another missing feature: Lane Guidance. Neither feature is listed in iOS Feature AvailabilityThe Taisy0 blog noticed the change.

It’s not clear who is supplying the data as Apple Maps Japan has only started mapping Tokyo and Increment P is still the only Japanese map source listed. Traffic has yet to be implemented so Apple Maps Japan is still very limited compared to mature full featured navigation systems which are standard equipment in almost all Japanese cars. I don’t have a car to test it right now but look forward to giving it a try on my next business trip.

Another Google Maps Moat News Cycle

Buckle up map fans, another Google Maps vs. Apple Maps news cycle just arrived. In case you forgot the cycle goes like this:

  • Justin O’Beirne posts a new analysis
  • Tech writers swoon (Gruber following Heer right on cue) but one of them says, “I don’t use Google Maps, Apple Maps works just fine for me.”
  • Overseas commentators clock in saying “that might be true in the USA but Apple Maps suck here in XXX.

OK, after a long hibernation the once and future Apple Maps cartographer head honcho Justin O’Beirne is trolling his former employer again and posted his analysis of the iOS 12 Apple Maps reboot. It is very long so here is a summary:

The Apple Maps team is collecting lots of data all by itself and processing it in India <everybody knew that already>

But

Apple Maps still relies too much on 3rd rate 3rd party data supplies like TomTom, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. <ditto>

And

Apple Maps does a poor job of coordinating, editing and vetting different sets of data. Because of this Apple Maps really sucks at labeling and placing things correctly. <duh and duh>

The most interesting bit is the footnote at the end:Apple's New Map Footnote

O’Beirne knows his tech audience well. His ‘Google is sucking up ever more information and contributors who know how to label things for AR…how will Apple ever compete?’ line of reasoning is calculated to play well with that crowd because nobody will bother asking questions like ‘how will Google vet all those local map contributions’ and assume machine AI algorithms will take care of that along with geopolitics and human mischief. Who vets the vetters and how?

AI technology has its place of course but will never replace human understanding. A small team of smart editors can tie together maps, transit and booking into a handy service. A real team of local knowledgeable talented editors doing more with less is exactly what makes Yahoo Japan Maps a much better product than Google Maps or Apple Maps for Japanese users. Unfortunately this isn’t sexy or interesting to the Western tech crowd because it isn’t technology. So O’Beirne will continue to get the clicks and the praise. To which I can only say, another hit with the tech blogger crowd for Justin O’Beirne…you go Justin O’Beirne! It’s all great fun.

Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: indoor maps

Before starting let me get this out of the way: indoor mapping on digital devices is in the stone age and basically sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s Google, Apple or Yahoo Japan Maps. It all sucks, some less than others. That would be Yahoo Japan Maps.

Indoor maps overwhelm the user with mediocre information and detail they don’t need, map vomit, and are more confusing than helpful. Getting intelligently collected human curated high density map information and presenting it in clear, concise user-friendly fashion is a challenge, especially so for indoor maps which have to collapse 3D information into a 2D format.

Apple Maps Japan has not officially announced indoor map availability yet but you can see it in action at Narita International Airport on iOS. Here is a quick comparison big view of Narita with Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps.

As usual Yahoo Japan Maps has the most intelligent use of Japanese text, high contrast and different text sizes to emphasize significance but it ends here: Yahoo Japan Maps does not have indoor maps for airports as they have focused efforts on major train station indoor mapping instead. In terms of real everyday use, it’s the smarter choice.

Comparison closeups of Terminal 1 3rd Floor show that Apple Maps still suffers from the same old problems of using 3rd rate 3rd party data suppliers with poor vetting and coordination: some stores are located out on the tarmac. The Apple Maps reboot effort has yet to be felt in Japan.

A comparison closeup view of Terminal 1 4th Floor check in and store areas: Apple has a good idea in offering canned search buttons for Check-in, Restaurants, Cafes, restroom, etc. Unfortunately the iOS UI control puts Japanese names at the bottom of the every list and tapping a canned search button only highlights results that add another layer of visual noise. It would be much better if canned searches also hide or grey out unrelated details and offer Japanese names at the top of every list with alphabetized English names at the bottom. Meanwhile Google Maps uses the same hunt and peck ‘one size fits all’ search conventions for indoor and outdoor maps.

Realistically I cannot imagine using any of these indoor maps in real life on an iPhone screen. It’s much easier walking to an information booth or asking airport or station staff for directions. Until indoor maps and Siri get much smarter and tightly integrated with highly reliable information on the backend, I don’t see these solutions solving problems for anybody.