Apple Maps Japan mislabels cemeteries, digs own grave

Dear Apple Maps JP team: this cute rabbit stone lantern in front of Myohoji temple main hall is not the cemetery

In the latest Apple Maps Japan installment of how not to run a digital service, we can now add graveyards to the long list of things done poorly or incompetently. About a month ago I noticed new Point of Interest icons appearing on temple buildings close to traditional ‘manji’ Buddhist temple Point of Interest icon marks. The new POI is a western style gravestone with a flower, but the new icon names are in English, not Japanese. As they appeared to be duplicate Point of Interest information I reported them as duplicates which is not easy to do in the current Apple Map problem report mechanism.

Soon the new icons were everywhere and I realized that Apple Maps was attempting to mark cemeteries inside temple compounds but making a mess of it: randomly labeling temple halls as cemeteries instead of correctly identifying cemetery areas in temple compounds or nearby in separate plots of land. As you might expect there are also problems with the POI information, web links don’t always work, addresses are incorrect for contacting cemetery offices, etc. And then there are user ratings.

As a rule Apple Maps locks user ratings for public and religious institutions, limiting them to places of business (restaurants, etc.). This is the sensible and right thing to do. Unfortunately the new cemetery POI allows user ratings. I can only imagine this is a system error that needs to be fixed.

The whole affair is classic Apple Maps Japan: Apple signs up a new POI data provider but doesn’t vet any of the data quality, loads it into the system and boom. Duplicates and mistakes all over the place, literally, that can stick around for years. Currently Myohoji temple in Koenji has: 2 manji POI, one from Recruit Jalan that marks the temple office, one from another public based source that marks the cemetery, and 1 new English only cemetery POI icon that marks a nice little stone lantern in front of the main hall.

It’s a mess that could have been avoided with a minimal amount of data verification and vetting, not even checking to make sure the data is localized for Japanese. Wasn’t the new Apple Maps supposed to fix this? I guess Apple doesn’t consider it a problem. I say it again, the more I use iOS 15 Apple Maps, the less I like it.

ETC 2.0 RSA Security Update

Twitter user shao posted an interesting series of tweets relating to RSA security and ETC 2.0.

In case you didn’t notice, or don’t drive much, the wireless Japanese Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system has gotten a big upgrade to ETC 2.0 these past few years. The enhanced ITS SPOT antenna network using DSRC (Dedicated short-range communications) 5.8GHz band for ETC 2.0 duplex communication has been in place on the ground since 2011 but it wasn’t until 2015 when ETC 2.0 ready car navigation systems began delivering ETC 2.0 services to drivers. Unfortunately ETC 2.0 still only represents 25% of the user base though ETC 2.0 navigation systems are due to be ‘standard equipment’ from the 2021 car model year.

Shao pointed out that ETC 2.0 got a security update in 2018 with older less secure ETC 2.0 card readers ‘good until 2030’ unless a security threat forces a quicker update. Unfortunately it is not easy to tell the difference between newer devices with the security update and older potentially less secure devices. He also notes that Suica uses RSA which is another good reason for JR East to upgrade everything to the newer more secure FeliCa OS version based Super Suica format. With all that hardware out there that can’t be upgraded sometimes you have to pull the trigger and pull the plug on compatibility in favor of the new.

ETC 2.0 readers on the left have the latest RSA security enhancements and are hard to tell apart from older less secure units

One central ETC 2.0 feature is the ability to connect with smartphones and deliver much more detailed traffic and road information but so far there are very few options out there. The only stand alone unit I could find was the Denso ETC 2.0 reader + Android App product that went off the market in 2020 with no replacement. ETC 2.0 integration for Google Maps and Apple Maps would be great to have but looks unlikely. Dedicated car navi systems are the best, and only, way to enjoy the benefits of enhanced ETC 2.0 content.

Apple Maps Japan Look Around Expands to Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Takamatsu, Nara

Apple Maps vans and walkers were busy in Japan from May to October 2020 and the first cites to receive Look Around from the data sets are: Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Takamatsu. This is not part of the Apple Maps 2.0 ‘New Maps’ cartography that has rolled out in USA, Canada and UK, just the same lousy IPC map data with a Look Around cherry on top. According to Justin O’Beirn these were added in mid-December.

In addition to new areas he lists, the Look Around Tokyo area region has been extended deeper into the greater Kanto area with more Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa coverage, though I don’t see any pedestrian data gains in areas that need it (major shrines, temples, parks, and other public areas off limits to vehicles). In the Kansai area, southern parts of Osaka and Nara have been added as well.

At this rate we should have Look Around additions for Sendai, Ishikawa, more Kanto and other regions coming soon. Apple Maps Look Around first appeared in August 2020 for Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka regions from data collected in 2019.

Google Maps ‘Real-Time’ Crowdedness Caveats: wherever data is available

Google Maps Japan has offered crowdedness transit information since June. The latest app version is expanding this feature:

If you need to take transit, Google Maps can help you more easily social distance with live crowdedness information. On Android and iOS globally, you’ll start seeing how crowded your bus, train, or subway line is right now based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users around the world (wherever data is available).

Google Maps updates to get you through the holidays

Crowdedness is missing altogether in Apple Maps Japan transit, not surprising as Apple is very slow adding new features and transit only just got around to adding train platform numbers. Google Maps crowdedness information is a welcome feature but be wary about the ‘real-time’ label with the ‘wherever data is available’ sticker.

As the announcement explains, crowdedness data is ‘real-time feedback’. In Japan the feedback is solicited in the app: ‘how crowded is your train’. This is a completely subjective observation and depends on whatever the person making said feedback thinks and feels. Manual feedback may not the only measure, but it is time and train specific beyond the capability of GPS and carries the most weight.

JR East provides crowdedness information collected from train and station cameras that they plug into the JR East app. They also supply this to Google Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and other map services. Detail level depends on the line: Yamanote line train cameras and sensors provide car by car crowdedness and much more while Chuo line trains sensors only summarize the entire train.

The gap between Google Map feedback and JR East crowdedness data sets can be seen in Google Maps transit directions. JR East supplied data is highlighted in red text labeled ‘live’, Google feedback data is not. In the above screenshot Google Maps feedback lists the Yamanote train as crowded, JR East data does not. The take away: use transit agency data when available, after a few months of using it I find Google Maps feedback crowdedness data is, at best, subjective.

Apple Maps Japan rolls out Look Around and Improved Map features (Updated)

Look Around is available in the greater Tokyo Kanto, Osaka Kansai and Nagoya areas in purple.. Green areas indicate Apple Maps 2.0 data updates nationwide

Apple flipped the switch for Apple Maps Japan ‘improved maps’ with Look Around for Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, and new map details nationwide. Initial navigation tests indicate turn by turn incorporates the new date for better directions. Siri also seems to have gained improved guidance with finer details: turn left, walk over the bridge, etc. Taken altogether, improved maps, improved Siri guidance, the new higher quality Japanese Siri voices and other Siri improvements will make iOS 14 a nice upgrade.

Tokyo area parks like Shinjuku Gyoen and Yoyogi are packed with new Apple Maps 2.0 details. A quick examination reveals Look Around is pretty much limited to roadside views. Major pedestrian data collection efforts are still ongoing across Japan through October and will be very important in rounding out both the feature set and improving navigation in later updates.

The Tokyo Olympics Update
The Apple Maps team worked to get this major update ready in time for the, now postponed, Tokyo Olympics. It’s great that Apple Maps Japan users can enjoy the benefits of the effort and the fact Japan is the first country outside of the USA to get Look Around and Apple Maps 2.0 improved map data.


Look Around Impressions and Reactions
The Japanese online reaction to Look Around has been largely positive. People seem impressed with the quality, the level of detail and the ease of use compared with Google Maps Japan Street View. The biggest complaints are, ‘I want it in my area too’, a good complaint to have, and ‘this street data is already out of date’, which is not. Things move quickly in Tokyo, the Look Around imagery is from spring~summer 2019 and people already notice the age.

Tokyo in particular has a lot of rebuilding going on in residential areas. I don’t know if this is because of the Olympics or cheap interest rates, but everywhere I see yet another building with scaffolding going up around it for demolition or makeover. Keeping Look Around up to date in Tokyo will be a challenge.

While main streets are covered well, the vast maze of Tokyo side streets have yet to be mapped and pedestrian maps are missing altogether for public areas like parks, shrines and temples all of which Google Street Maps comprehensively covers. Use Look Around on iPhone for a bit and you soon feel the ‘you can’t go there’ haptic feedback bump. Look Around Tokyo is off to a good start but has a long way to go.

And I still see evidence of long standing Apple Maps Japan data problems, in particular the weak Increment P supplied data. Even with all the great new image collection, ground truth checks will be a problem: it can’t be done with AI or from a car, and Increment P simply does’t have the quality manpower to do it.

This is where Zenrin would be a huge help, as they field a ground truth human team with no equal. Having Zenrin on board instead of Increment P would really truly make Apple Maps Japan, the dope choice.


Apple Maps Japan 2.0: New Improved Maps is not new
Apple Maps Japan 2.0 is a tossup. Look Around is off to a good start but limited, and people complain about mislabeled places from poor quality 3rd party data suppliers which drags down Look Around quality. The more you use it the less it looks or feels like a comprehensive update. Justin O’Beirne posted a before and after collection of Apple Maps Japan screen shots.

As a former member of the Apple Maps cartography team, O’Beirne has helpful insights into the differences between the Apple collected and created ‘Improved Map’ cartography 2.0 update rolled out in the USA. His conclusion is that all of the new details are from Japanese map data supplier Increment P (IPC), not Apple image collection vans. This update is not a true Apple Maps 2.0 update. This is correct but not the whole story.

As I have pointed out in many posts over the years, and as an Apple Maps team member admitted to me, there were two basic long standing problems:

  1. Despite being a subsidiary of Pioneer, the P in Increment P, IPC data has never been a strong 1st tier quality map data supplier like Zenrin. Japanese users have complained that IPC takes years to update road and train station information. The further out from metropolitan areas, the weaker IPC map data becomes. This is something Apple can only fix by using a new supplier which they have not done.
  2. Apple only used a subset of IPC map data mixed with OpenStreet map data. For years IPC pushed Apple to integrate all available IPC supplied data more effectively, it seems they finally worked things out and did this.

Apple Maps Japan 2.0 Summary
The Apple Maps Japan update consists of: (1) the Apple created Look Around and, (2) finally incorporates the full set of IPC map data that Apple should have been using all along. Even though the map data and cartography is not Apple collected, they consider this a full blown ‘Improved Map’ update:

iOS 14 Maps ‘New Features’ splash screen

Look Around and a map refresh add up to a big update for Apple Maps Japan but it’s really just a new starting point. Apple image collection vans and walkers can only do so much and are hamstrung by the weak points of the Apple Maps team itself, in particular the poor integration of local data suppliers.

What is Apple aiming for in the long run? To equal or better Google Maps Japan and Yahoo Maps Japan? Or just be a better me-too map? Time will tell but the seven year 2012~2019 run suggests the latter. The Apple Maps Japan makeover challenge is just beginning.