New maps nowhere in sight amid Look Around expansion in Japan


Significant Look Around expansions for Tokyo, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto and Osaka covering most if not all of the public roads in those prefectures are coming this spring (2023), along with select city and district additions for Gunma, Okayama, Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures. Yet after five years of Apple Maps image collection in Japan, brand new revamped maps similar to recent European rollouts remain an elusive goal. There has been some interesting discussion on Reddit and other sites about when revamped Apple Maps are coming to Japan. Even Justin O’Beirne initially listed Japan as a 2023 new maps candidate but wisely removed it.

Many people assume entire prefectures have been mapped when this is not the case, easy to do if you don’t live here and think Japan is a small island country. Map views are deceptive: you can only appreciate how much bigger Japan is in real life when driving it.

Apple has a simple formula for image collection in Japan: Cities + Districts = Prefectures. That is to say Apple has never mapped an entire prefecture in one concentrated sweep: they start with select large cities and districts then gradually add less populated areas over several mapping seasons. Yamanashi Prefecture will be the first prefecture Apple is mapping in one season (February~November 2023). Perhaps this is a new strategy. I have tried to come up with (what else?) a map that hopefully explains the complicated situation with easy to understand terms of what’s mapped and what’s not.

  1. Mostly Mapped Prefectures
    I say ‘mostly mapped’ because Apple only maps public roads (city, district, prefecture, national). There are plenty of publicly used local community maintained ‘private roads‘ in urban areas that Apple does not map (nearly 40% of all roads in my city), that Google does. This means there are significant Look Around and AR Walking Direction dead spots in areas after Apple Maps image collection vans and backpacks have ‘completely covered’ them, and this has major implications for creating Apple proprietary ‘New Maps’.
  2. Partially Mapped Prefectures
    Major metropolis areas that include good sized parts of multiple neighboring prefectures: Greater Tokyo (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki), Greater Osaka (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo), Greater Nagoya (Aichi, Mie). For some reason Apple has not mapped traditional greater area regions like Gifu (Greater Nagoya) and Wakayama (Greater Osaka).
  3. Selectively Mapped Prefectures
    One or two of the biggest cites in select prefectures: Miyagi, Niigata, Ishikawa, Kagawa, Ehime, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto.

In short Apple Maps Japan continues its gradual measured expansion which means no proprietary New Maps, detailed city experiences or 3D landmarks, etc., are coming in 2023 or 2024. I still think Indoor Station Maps with AR directions are in the works (WWDC23 maybe?) but for regular maps Japan is stuck with the very mediocre GeoTechnologies cartography…and will be for some time to come.


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


2022 mapping season: the basis for Look Around #5 expansion


2023 mapping season for Look Around #6

iOS 16 Apple Maps Quick Look

In 2018 Eddie Cue said, “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.” After 10 years of Apple Maps, 7 years of rebuilding it and 3 years after the all-new map launch…are we there yet?

As I said last year, reviewing Apple Maps is impossible because it’s a very different service in different regions, with Japan an outliner in many ways. All that follows is from a Japanese market perspective that does not apply to using Apple Maps in other places.

In the run up to WWDC22, the Apple Maps team rolled out new features:

If there is one Apple Maps take away from WWDC22 it was the focus on Apple Maps services and leveraging Apple created, Apple proprietary Look Around and detailed 3D city experience in developer apps. For developers using MapKit there is a lot of new stuff to access all new map details. They have access to the entire Apple Maps stack and can incorporate Look Around and the detailed 3D city experience in their apps.

Apple also has a new web service called Apple Maps Server that allows 3rd party app backends to do georelated searches directly with the Apple Maps Server which promises to increase performance instead of wasting mobile bandwidth and battery. It seems like a small step but I’m intrigued if Apple has bigger Apple Maps Server plans later on. Also this:

Old is New
What’s on the slate for the iOS 16 Maps app? With the focus on services i.e. features Apple can add without a new app, not much. We have a refreshed Maps UI that adds multi-stop routing with much better start point~destination point selectors, and condenses various route and guidance options into a single slide-able menu selection row.

For some bewildering reason Apple touts transit cards and fares in Maps as new. They are not. The features have been there since the October 2016 iOS 10.1 Apple Pay Suica launch update, they also come with the same old limitations in iOS 16, like ignoring your transit cards installed on Apple Watch. And it won’t work with transit cards that don’t support Wallet recharge, like Ventra and HOP. Apple is either hard up for showcasing new Maps features or it counts as new because it is new for America.

In field tests there are some nice new little touches. Walking directions now include elevation information, Point of Interest (POI) cards are better arranged, Siri suggestions seems a little more with it (the new high quality Japanese voices are nice too).

I was hoping for some tweaks to transit directions with better transfer and final destination notifications but there is no apparent change from iOS 15, and transit directions remain hopelessly lost on subway routes. No changes either for Japanese cartography and Japan focused Guides remain English language only.

In sum it will be a quiet Apple Maps year for Japanese users. The iOS 16 UI tweaks are nice to have, Look Around will get the new extensions currently being mapped (minus private roads), maybe Real-Time Transit will get real. Definitely no new maps for Japan and the big indoor station mapping effort remains a mystery. Perhaps we’ll find out what Apple is up on that front at WWDC23, but that’s another story for another time.


iOS 16 Apple Maps Gallery (b1)

The Point of Interest card UI is tweaked and more compact.
June 2022 feature availability for Japan

When will Japan get Apple’s New Maps? Part 2: the private road problem

In part 1 we examined Apple Map Japan Image Collection for 2022 and concluded that all of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures will have been ‘completely mapped’. But this isn’t really true: yes official public roads will have been mapped but not private roads…and there are lots of those.

If you examine the current coverage of Look Around in Tokyo carefully you notice that many side streets are not mapped. These are private roads. Private roads in Japan look just like regular roads, and are used like regular roads but they are owned and paid for by the residents who live there. It is a traditional cultural institution of local community building before there was a local government to take care of such things. It’s also one of the reasons why undergrounding is difficult to do even on public roads as utility poles are ‘owned’ by the residents.

When the private road is a thru street connecting public roads, it’s really more of semi-private community road, and the area residents who “own” it as a collective get tax cuts or local government subsidies to help cover road maintenance.You can usually tell a private road from official ones as they have no pavement markings or signs. Everybody uses them and they are ubiquitous. In Tokyo/Suginami City where I live, the breakdown of Suginami roads is as follows:

Road typekm%
Total All (Public~Private)1,107.4100
Public (National, Tokyo Metro, local city)688.762.2%
Private418.737.8%
Suginami City

What Apple had done in Japan for their Image Collection is only map public roads, and not all of the those either as I spot a few missing ones in Suginami City. The general rule of thumb is that narrow side roads in older cities and neighborhoods are private roads. It’s safe to assume that Apple Image Collection vans have only mapped 60%~70% of the cities they have traveled. Google Maps Japan, has you would expect, have extensively mapped private roads.

What are the implications? Can Apple launch new maps or detailed city experiences for with only 60~70% of the total road area mapped? I doubt it. They’d have to get the missing data from somewhere and Apple’s go to map data supplier GeoTechnologies certainly isn’t up to the job. Believe me, they are not. Apple Maps Japan will gradually get more Look Around, but new maps and detailed city experience won’t be coming soon, if ever, not unless Apple tackles their Japanese private road mapping problem.


The Reddit run-down

I joined Reddit for a few months in 2018, mainly to get in contact with FeliCa Dude, but soon left as I found subreddit comment threads a swampy, treacherous place. There was great content in the discussions to be sure but too much of it was people talking past each other than real discourse of thoughtful listening and posting.

Sometimes one of my posts gets linked in a Reddit comment or post. This happened recently when Apple listed Japan for Real-Time transit. I wrote a post outlining why Apple Maps Japan Real-Time Transit is fake and compared it to Google Maps Japan which has had real-time for a while now. Not long after posting that, Apple removed Japan from their Real-Time transit region listing.

That post also experienced a Reddit traffic surge, but until the recent addition of Reddit comment searches it was impossible to find the subreddit generating hits. WordPress stats are worthless and only show generic site addresses, not the individual pages generating incoming traffic.

Recently my AR walking guidance in Japan post got some Reddit hits and, thanks to the much improved Reddit search functions, quickly found the Apple Maps subreddit that linked the post. I also found the earlier post that linked my Apple Maps Real-Time Transit is fake. There was a snarky upvoted comment: “The author constantly shits on everything Apple does and seems to have some sort of axe to grind. I’d take anything he says with a huge grain of salt.”

Fair enough, but the writer of that post created a fake account in my name just to make that one shit post. That kind of unmoderated irresponsible behavior is exactly the reason my stay on Reddit was very short. It illustrates the insular closed-minded side of Reddit brats who, when they don’t like the served food, throw it on the wall instead of trying to understand it, explain what they don’t like about it or how it could be improved. Which is a shame because it mars some very good discussion.

For the record I want Apple Maps to succeed in Japan but I don’t believe that sugar coating problems solves anything. Apple Maps is 10 years old this year but there are deep, long standing issues in Japan which have yet to be fixed. Even in Canada, which has all the latest Apple Maps features from new map to detailed city experience, there are long standing problems.

I’ll continue to occasionally dump on Apple Maps, on the things it gets wrong in Japan, but I do get that people are enthusiastic for Apple Maps in full glory…an Apple Maps for the rest of us, not just America and a few select western countries. I hope it happens.

When will Japan get Apple’s new map? Part 1

Now that new maps for France and New Zealand are in final public testing and almost certainly to be mentioned at WWDC22, there is speculation that Japan is next in line for Apple’s “built from the ground up” new map.

In my opinion, we must not forget Japan. Moreover, I find it difficult to understand the situation in this country. Certainly, Apple has updated this country with very accurate third-party data but it remains a very important country for Apple and still does not have the new map data. So, my list of countries will be Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein or Sweden.

Reddit user/Apple Maps subreddit

After all, Japan is high on Justin O’Beirne’s list of countries that Apple cares about:

This suggests that Apple’s expansions over the next couple of years are likeliest to include Austria, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and smaller countries immediately neighboring them.

With Germany, Singapore, France and New Zealand out of the way is Japan really next in line? Based on Apple’s image collection effort in Japan so far the short answer is no, maybe never…at the current pace. Indeed the situation is difficult to understand.

Image collection in Japan kicked off seriously in April 2019 with the big 1st wave covering cities in the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki) Nagoya region (Nagoya City with a tiny bit of Mie prefecture) and the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga). Mapped cities are listed in the screenshots below. These were the regions of the Look Around Japan launch on August 5, 2020 JST.

At the time Apple Maps showed a splash screen announcing new features for Japan: Look Around, Improved Map, Landmarks

Indeed the cartography was improved, especially in park areas that finally showed paths and other details instead of big green shapes. However, as Justin O’Beirne pointed out, improved map for Japan was only improved cartography of Apple’s primary map data provider Increment P (IPC), not Apple’s new map (confirmed at WWDC21). Apple was doing a better job with IPC Map Fan data but why did they put so much effort into a short term solution? The answer: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that were originally scheduled July 25~August 9 before COVID hit.

People outside of Japan think Apple’s 3rd party map data for Japan is “very accurate”, but Japanese do not and neither do I. IPC was sold by Pioneer to a hedge fund in 2021. They changed the company name to GeoTechnologies, stuffed the board with cushy director positions and now market the awful click-bait for points Torima app. The focus of the company is clearly leveraging assets, not building them.

The hallmark of GeoTechnologies map data is the blocky ‘swiss cheese’ look of rural areas and the sloppy mismatched cartography of areas mapped at different intervals badly spliced together. Rivers disappear and reappear, wide roads suddenly become goat paths then roads again, half towns disappear along a mapped region ‘fault lines’. Many problems, never fixed.

Nevertheless the Apple image collection beat goes on with annual mapping sweeps, all for Look Around, now also for AR walking guidance. The 2020 run mapped extensions for Hiroshima, Sendai, Takamatsu and Fukuoka cities, the 2021 run mapped the just released exertions for Sapporo, Niigata, Shizuoka and Akashi cities. The 2022 run is the most extensive yet, half refresh of 2019 mapped areas and half new with Okayama, Kita-Kyushu and Kumamoto cities being mapped for the very first time. Unlike the early runs, the later mapping runs are covering entire listed cites instead of limited central areas.

By the end of 2022 Apple will have completely mapped 5 prefectures: Osaka, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Kanagawa, and Tokyo Metropolis. It’s very odd that Apple is mapping huge swathes of rural Shizuoka ahead of important population areas like greater Nagoya. I lived in the central Shizuoka region for 10 years and cycled everywhere. The Shizuoka mapping priority to cover so much rural area doesn’t make sense. Whatever the reasons, we have 6 prefectures in 4 years…1.5 prefectures a year with 41 prefectures to go. That means Japan will be completed mapped and ready for new map in 2049.

In other words, unless things change in a big way, Japan will remain the Apple Maps outliner it is now and new map will remain elusive as Apple’s map label for the Sea of Japan.


Continued: When will Japan get Apple’s new map? Part 2: the private road problem