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.
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>
Apple Maps still relies too much on 3rd rate 3rd party data supplies like TomTom, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. <ditto>
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:
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.
Instead of doing the “Google Maps is the world standard so screw local cultural conventions” thing, Apple seems to be going out of its way to embrace them:
The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.
In Japan Yahoo Japan Maps is the gold standard to beat but it looks like Apple Maps is about to get interesting again.
Apple Maps does not offer Indoor Maps for Japan. Tokyo was on the Airport/Mall rollout list at WWDC 2017 but later dropped. Indoor maps for Airports and malls are not what people need or want in Japan anyway. The need to navigate Japanese underground station mazes. Here’s a quick look at Ikebukuro Station underground in Tokyo with Apple Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.
A Birds-eye View
All 3 maps show the Ikebukuro station underground footprint in light red / pink. Yahoo Japan Maps is the only one with a indoor maps navigation UI. Apple Maps only goes as far as the station footprint, let’s compare indoor maps views from Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.
Yahoo Japan Maps offers a master bird’s-eye view of Ikebukuro station underground when zoomed out. Yellow station exits are clearly marked. Store information is only shown when the user fully zooms in.
Google Maps does not offer a master bird’s-eye view of Ikebukuro station underground and forces the user to zoom in to see different parts of the same underground structure and access the indoor map UI. The Google Maps team does not believe that station exits are important information and omits them. Store icons clutter up the view when they are clearly not needed but that pays the bills.