Apple Maps Expands Japan Image Collection Effort

After a small start in 2018 limited to parts of Tokyo and Chiba, Apple has greatly expanded their map data image collection efforts in Japan. It’s a much more ramped up and detailed data sweep covering both major metropolitan and surrounding rural areas in Honshu. Areas on target for image collection from April to October this year include: Greater Kanto (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaragi, Kanagawa), Greater Tokai (Aichi/Nagoya, Mie) and Greater Kansai (Kyoto, Shiga, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara). It’s a lot of ground to cover in 6 months and I hope the Apple Maps team can keep this level of commitment for mapping the rest of Japan.

The Apple Maps reboot has yet to make any difference in Japan, even with the recent addition of indoor maps, but Apple does have a chance now that Google Maps has stumbled badly here since dropping top Japanese map supplier Zenrin. More image collection is a good start but will never be enough. I have said it before and say it again, Apple cannot up their Japan product with current 3rd rate map supplier Increment P, they need to sign Zenrin. Nobody’s artificial intelligence algorithms, not Google’s and certainly not Apple’s, can match the quality of 1,000 Zenrin ground checkers.

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Google Maps experiences a Apple Maps meltdown in Japan

Early this month Google Japan announced new features for Japanese users that would include better map data and easier navigation. Instead of “in 100 meters turn left”, Google Maps now says “turn left at the 7-Eleven.” The rollout however is not going very well and is surprisingly similar to the previous Google Maps meltdown in 2015 when anybody could edit map data directly.

This past week map otaku complained on Twitter that Google had dumped premier Japanese digital map data supplier Zenrin for in-house data and weird things were happening. Japanese Twitter is now full of screenshots of parking lots transformed into roads, mountains into lakes and railroad lines suddenly gone missing. It’s like zooming back to the 2012 Apple Maps launch with underwater subway stations in Yotsuya Tokyo or the infamous Gundam Pachinko JR train station. Things came to a head when Zenrin’s stock price crashed today based on speculation that Google had dumped them, though neither company commented. Bloomberg ran the story in Japanese and English, which is unusual, and local IT press coverage has been brutal.

I have seen the Google mapping van and the Google mapping backpacker in the neighborhood occasionally, but one problem seems to be that Google replaced Zenrin data, which has a large field verification team behind it, with in-house map data automatically extracted from satellite images.

I’m sure Google will fix most things, eventually, but there is a growing consensus that Zenrin quality cannot be replaced with in-house AI created data and Google Maps in Japan is destined to become an also-ran service like Apple Maps. Time will tell, but taken together with the recent claims of a growing reverse vishing problem in Asia, the Google Maps reputation in Japan is taking a big hit.

If Apple were smart they would use the opportunity to sign Zenrin and finally get their hands on top rate Japanese map data instead of the 3rd rate Increment P. Until then stick with Yahoo Japan Maps who not only has the superior Zenrin map data but the best cartography too, which they constantly tweak and improve. Take a quick look of the same Shinjuku area in Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps and see how many train and subway stations you can easily pick out of the stew at a glance. Yahoo Japan Maps wins every time.

Apple Maps Japan adds Indoor Mall Maps

Apple continues their slow rollout of Indoor Maps for Japan. Tokyo Narita and Nagoya Chubu Airport indoor maps were added in September (Haneda and Kansai are still missing). Indoor Mall Maps have been added for a few Tokyo locations. So far I have identified Kitte, the old post office site next to Tokyo station, Ginza Six, Roppongi Hills and Omotesando Hills. There are probably more in other metropolitan areas but we won’t know until Apple updates the iOS Feature Availability page which can take forever. Underground station mall maps for important places like Tokyo, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro are missing, unfortunately. Good luck navigating those monster mazes on your own.

Apple has obviously gone for indoor mapped areas where the data is readily available from a single 3rd party source. Underground station areas have multiple sources and agencies to deal with and Apple doesn’t do much data collection in Japan yet . Until they do it will be a slow go.

 

Smart Octopus Coming to Apple Pay with Hong Kong Transit Apple Maps (U)

It’s exactly a year since the Hong Kong Smart Octopus card launched on Samsung Pay. And just like last year, rumors are flying again before a launch, this time on Apple Pay. We will know in the next few weeks. It may arrive in tandem with a iOS 12.x update though last years launch was a low key ‘what? it’s here?’ affair.

Global FeliCa has been standard on all iPhone and Apple Watch models since 2017 and the device use profile will certainly match what Apple support lists for Suica:

  • An Apple Watch Series 2 (purchased in Japan), Apple Watch Series 3, or Apple Watch Series 4
  • An iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus (purchased in Japan), iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone XR

The process for adding cards will be slightly different from Suica and closer to Apple Pay China Transit Cards for Beijing and Shanghai: new cards can be created in Apple Pay Wallet and plastic cards can be transferred, but just like Suica, plastic Octopus cards cannot be used after being transferred.

A lot of iPhone users in Hong Kong have been waiting for Smart Octopus on Apple Pay since the debut of global FeliCa iPhone, it will certainly be a welcome addition.

Update
Hong Kong transit directions will also be added to Apple Maps with the Apple Pay Smart Octopus launch. They will be integrated similar to Japanese transit in Apple Maps that notifies insufficient Suica Express Card balance for on route transit fare.

Apple Maps Transit integrates Apple Pay Suica information

Update 2
More Smart Octopus

Update 3
It looks like we’ll have to wait 6 months for Smart Octopus Apple Pay with iOS 13.

Update 4
Tim Cook’s remark about more Apple Pay Transit coming later this year at today’s keynote was a clear sign that more transit goodness is on tap for iOS 13.

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