Final thoughts on iOS 15 Apple Maps

Reviewing Apple Maps is impossible because it’s not the same product everywhere. The iOS 15 Apple Maps users get in California is completely different from the Apple Maps users get in Japan. The vast collection of services under the Maps umbrella is such that a comprehensive overview would require separate reviews of each category and country: (1) Basic Directions: driving, transit, bike, walking, (2) Search: pre-canned Nearby, Point of Interest, etc., (3) Two different versions of Look Around, (4) Guides, (5) Last but not least: cartography design and map data quality.

The reason for this of course is that much of Apple Maps is outsourced, very little is collected in-house and created by Apple. Apple uses many different local data suppliers of varying quality to deliver most map services for each country. Regions outside of major metropolitan areas only have a small sub-set of those services.

Nobody has mapped the vast Apple Maps effort better than Justin O’Beirne but even he limits his analysis to cartography comparisons and listing feature availability rollouts. His useful availability table illustrates the dilemma, as you can see Maps feature availability is all over the place.

Justin O’Beirne Apple Maps Feature Availability (4/2022) shows Apple Maps as a very western-centric product, far larger Asian cities have far fewer features and the Guides category are only available in English certainly not Japanese

For this iOS 15 Apple Maps non-review, I’ll limit observations to a few features in Japan, or lack thereof. Before diving in it is important to be acquainted with the basic longstanding quality problems that Apple Maps Japan has suffered from:

  • Poor quality map data from supplier Increment P (now called GeoTechnology), especially weak in rural areas. Apple could easily and greatly improve their map product by switching to outstanding Zenrin data, but they have not taken the opportunity.
  • Extremely uneven quality from various Point of Interest (POI) data suppliers
  • Poor vetting and coordination of 3rd party supplied data on the Apple Maps system side (duplicates, missing localization, etc.) with no viable way to report many kinds of errors.
  • Poor Japanese typography, specifically unfamiliarity with or unwillingness to accommodate and optimize non-roman character sets like Kanji that have special rules and needs for legible display.
  • No real-time transit schedule data integration, weak rural area transit direction support

I created a similar feature availability chart to O’Beirne’s one, focusing only on Japan and clearly separating out Apple in-house and 3rd party supplied data. Transit directions are the only nationwide available feature beyond fundamental drive and walking directions.

iOS 15 New Cartography
All countries, more or less, get the Apple Maps ‘new look’ cartography (but not the ‘New Maps’ Apple collected data) which everybody seems to either love or hate neatly summed up in the above Twitter timeline screenshot. O’Beirne never delivered his long promised, repeatedly postponed iOS 15 cartography review opus. This limited overview will have to do.

Let’s start with the basic new UI elements. iOS 15 Apple Maps has 4 views compared with the 3 views of previous iOS versions: Explore, Driving, Transit, Satellite. Explore is new and serves as the default view for exploring details and Points of Interest (POI) in full glory, or drowning in gory details…depending on your point of view.

Explore attempts to limit POI clutter with a new map design element: the ‘micro POI’. Micro POI are textless small dots using the same POI color scheme that tells the users there is more information available by zooming in. It’s a nice idea that Google Maps cribbed and implemented in better (bigger, higher contrast, easy to see) fashion that Apple.

The micro POI failure in Apple Maps is due to another new map element: highlighted commercial areas. Google Maps has highlighted commercial areas with a slightly different background color for some time. Apple Maps now highlights these areas with a pale orange background color that separates it from the standard grey background of non-commercial areas. Unfortunately the commercial POI color is also orange…so you end up with orange text on orange background. Micro POI look better in Dark Mode because the different background color adds most contrast. Hopefully Apple will continue to improve their new design to match the clarity and high contrast readability of Google and Yahoo Japan.

Japanese typography problems remain
The new cartography is a mixed bag on the colored Kanji typography front. Dark mode has improved dramatically but regular light mode still suffers from low contrast where the text color is almost the same as the background color. And Apple Maps still does ‘fukuro moji‘ wrong, there are too many times where there should be a black outline instead of white to make the text label readable. This issue is the perfect opportunity for AI that intelligently delivers the best display typography whatever the background is. Google Maps is remains miles ahead here and also respects user dynamic text size and bold text settings which Apple Maps completely ignores.

Transit Improvements
En-route disembark notifications are finally here but in my extensive testing, I found the design strangely inconsistent and disembark notifications unreliable. First of all Transit directions take over the screen like driving directions but only when set in iPhone but not, Apple Watch. Transfer and destination notifications are non standard app only banners that are also work differently on Apple Watch: they only show when Apple Maps is in the background.

The notification mechanism itself is GPS based and doesn’t work well in subways or big stations like Shinjuku that have notoriously bad GPS reception. Most of the time I get ‘next station disembark’ alerts after the train pulls out of Shinjuku. It’s the same story for Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Shibuya, and other major stations.

Transit directions now includes train car exit information, but real time transit and train crowding information is still missing. All of these have been on Google Maps Japan and Yahoo Japan Maps for some time and the UI is much more useful for searching transit route options.

One last time
I’ll close out this post and Apple Maps coverage with some final thoughts on the Japan product. Apple Maps reaches the 10 year mark in 2022, the ‘New Maps’ effort will be 4 years old. Things have improved for some regions but the overall level of fit and polish feels the same because the same old iOS 6 era problems lurk under the new candy coated surface. The more I use iOS 15 Apple Maps, the less I like it.

The basic malaise of Apple Maps in Japan is focus. The product team thinks that throwing questionable new features into the mix, the new cartography design, Look Around, etc., make a better product. They don’t. They don’t because each new feature is not best in class and/or doesn’t address the needs of the region. The result is a highly integrated collection of mediocre mini products and services. It doesn’t add up…the total is less than the sum of the parts.

Look Around for example: Tokyo data is from 2019 and has not been updated since then (as of this writing in October 2021) and it’s a confusing mix where some Tokyo Look Up areas incorporate POI information and some don’t. Tokyo and other major cities change quickly but the image collection effort remains very limited compared to America, Europe and Australia, Look Around isn’t keeping up, expansion is extremely slow. Guides remain an English only option, Indoor maps don’t include stations…and so it goes.

Compare that to the success of the highly focused Apple Pay Japan, a product that changed the Japanese payments landscape. Jennifer Bailey’s team built a very strong foundation and improved it from there. Instead of spreading themselves thin, Apple would do better to put new features on hold and focus on the basic foundation. Because until that happens, Apple Maps Japan, a product that refuses to name the Sea of Japan, is going nowhere.


iOS 15 Apple Maps User Reaction Gallery


Previous Apple Maps JP coverage:
iOS 15 Apple Maps wish list
Apple ‘Look Around’ Japan launch
iOS 14 Apple Maps wish list

Apple rebrands Express Transit as Express Mode…forgets to tell iOS 15

When Apple revamped their USA Apple Pay page back in June with the Clipper launch, they rebranded Express Transit as Express Mode on a new and separate Wallet webpage. At the time the branding change seemed trivial but it had bigger implications. After the release of iOS 15 Apple has scrubbed Express Transit references from numerous support pages and replaced it with Express Mode which is now a little *footnote on the Apple Pay Transit page. It used to be a whole ‘Ride transit with Express Transit’ section.

Does the change make it easier to understand the difference between going through a transit gate with Express Mode on, or where it can be used? Not really. In fact you have to read carefully to understand which transit systems have dedicated Apple Pay transit cards and which ones are open loop with Express Mode…or pokey old Face/Touch ID. Maybe that’s the whole point, it’s all just Apple Pay for transit.

As outlined after WWDC, Express Mode is what Apple wants to market because Wallet is not only about transit anymore: “With Express Mode, you can use cards, passes, and keys in the Wallet app with just a tap.” Sounds nice, except one small thing: somebody forgot to tell the iOS 15 UI team. Express Transit Card in Wallet & Apple Pay settings is still the place to turn on Express Mode that it always has been without the new branding. But there is no indication in the UI. And it is still different for keys and passes: tap the card ‘…’ button and then turn Express Mode on or off via a toggle or a menu, depending on the issuer…I guess.

In short Apple refers to Express Mode as a universal thing, but it’s not a universal setting in the iOS 15 UI and missing altogether in Express Transit Card settings…how confusing. Hopefully Apple will clean up the confounding Express Card vs Express Mode UI mess in future iOS 15 updates.

No Express Mode references in iOS 15 Wallet & Apple Pay settings Express Card

iOS 15 • watchOS 8 features missing in Japan

Now that iPhone • Apple Watch event day 2021 is over with iOS 15 • watchOS 8 ready for official launch on September 21 JST, let’s look at what features are missing for Japanese users by comparing the iOS 15 JP feature page with the USA one. The overview pages are more helpful than the detailed list page because the former gives you an idea what features are no-go and which ones Apple hopes to market later on.

MIJ: Missing in Japan

  • LiveText: Japanese language not supported, LiveText off by default but can be turned on in Language • Regions settings.
  • Visual Lookup
  • Wallet: home-hotel-office keys, ID. Japan might get some key action when Suica Smart-Lock service launches this December. ID might happen in 2022 after the digital My Number card launches.
  • Maps: all-new city experience, new driving features, immersive walking instructions
  • Fitness+: this is a pain because it means that the Apple One family premium tier with 2TB of iCloud storage is unavailable too.
    Weather Maps: precipitation and air quality are working but without local hourly precipitation support, in a country where it rains a lot, precipitation maps only work when zoomed out too far to be useful.

Apple Maps is the most annoying because all the new features are showing even though only the new transit stuff is supported. And transit notifications don’t work so well: forgot about reliability in the subway or in big stations like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, etc. You’ll get the ‘Exit Soon’ notice when you’ve already left the station. To be examined in a future post.

If readers find any other missing iOS 15 • watchOS 8 features for Japan, let me know via Twitter and I’ll add them to the list.

Secrets of iOS 15 Apple Wallet

iOS 15 Wallet is deceptive. The first impression out of the box is that nothing has changed much. It looks the same, it works the same. It doesn’t help that many of the new features won’t come until later in the iOS 15 life cycle and will be limited to certain users and regions. ID in Wallet for example is only due to launch in eight American states ‘late 2021’. Wallet keys for home only work on A12 Bionic iPhone XS and later while office and hotel key “device requirements may vary by hotel and workplace.” In Japan the iOS 15 Wallet feature section is missing altogether. The fine print reads like Apple is giving itself the biggest set of loophole opt outs ever, as if to say, ‘sorry, better luck later on.’

This is because Wallet key and ID cards are exactly like the Apple Pay launch in 2014 when the contactless payment infrastructure in America at the time was way behind Europe and Japan. The contactless transition has been bumpy, uneven and continues to plod along while stores have been slow getting their act together. Early Apple Pay adopters grew accustomed to hearing that classic gag line at checkout when things didn’t work right: “you’re holding it wrong.”

Wallet keys and ID will see a gradual measured uptake just like Apple Pay payment and transit cards. But unlike payment cards and transit cards, the reader infrastructure side of the equation for digital keys and ID cards is only just beginning. For some people it may be years before they have the opportunity to use digital key with their car, home or apartment. The initial use for Wallet ID, TSA security checks for domestic US air travel, represents only a small subset of a much wider future potential. How long will it be before state government services are fully equipped to read their own digital issue ID? And what about in-app ID checks, there’s huge but undeveloped potential there too.

Apple is leading the digital wallet transition for keys and ID as they did for payments when Apple Pay launched in 2014. Sure, there are others already doing it on a limited scale and Apple may be late to the party, but because Apple takes the time to make complex things easy to use and get it right, eventually it’s everywhere. Even without keys and ID, iOS 15 Wallet offers some deeply useful UI improvements that will remove a lot of frustration for all Wallet users. Let’s take a look.


New Add to Wallet UI
The new Add to Wallet screen with card categories is the gateway to new iOS Wallet features, it also solves long standing UI problems that confused users for adding transit cards. The main categories:

  • Debit or Credit Card
    Add debit/credit, the same process we’ve had all along.
  • Transit Card
    The add Transit Card category is new and lists all available transit cards that support direct Wallet card add and Apple Pay recharge. Transit cards that can only be added and recharged via an app such as Portland HOP and Chicago Ventra are not included. Some transit cards on the list are somewhat deceptive. Hong Kong Octopus and China T-Union cards cannot be added without certain locally issued credit/debit cards but you only get the warning message at the very end of the addition process that aborts it. The only transit cards that anybody from anywhere can add to Wallet are: Suica, PASMO, SmarTrip, Clipper and TAP.
  • Previous Cards
    Previous Cards is a new category that appears only when needed. It shows cards, keys and passes that are attached to the user Apple ID but are not currently in Wallet.

The region-free Wallet
These seemly mundane UI tweaks are much bigger than they look. Before iOS 15, Wallet did not make a clear distinction between first time card issue (adding a card) and re-adding previous cards that were already attached to the user’s Apple ID. Adding cards to Wallet was also region dependent, that is to say users had to set the iPhone region to match the issuer region to add those cards. This has been a real pain for transit cards: Japan to add Suica, Hong Kong to add Octopus, America to add SmarTrip, Clipper or TAP.

Changing the device region is easy to do, but it’s not intuitive at all and bewildered users. It’s not uncommon for people to think that changing the region messes up the Apple Pay cards they already have making them unusable, or that a certain region setting is required to use a particular card.

Neither is true, but region-dependent Wallet was a big source of confusion that kept people from using great Wallet features and caused support problems, especially for transit card users. Do a Suica search on Apple Support Communities. The number one support issue is: I lost my Suica card, how do I get it back in Wallet?

The new UI fixes this problem by making a clear distinction between removing Wallet cards vs. deleting them. Wallet has a simple rule: removing a card added in Wallet does not delete the card but stores then on iCloud. Cards added in Wallet and keys are hooked into the user’s Apple ID. This is easy to see in Suica App which displays the unique Apple ID/Apple Pay identifier for each Suica card.

The pain point was the inability to see what cards were still attached to their Apple ID sitting on the Apple Pay iCloud server when not in Wallet. Most people assume a card not is Wallet is lost forever, the classic ‘I lost my Suica’ problem described above. This happened all the time in pre-iOS 15 Wallet when the user signed out of Apple ID without realizing it or migrated to a new iPhone without doing Wallet housecleaning on the old device. Removed cards were always parked safely in iCloud but there was no easy way to see them. With Previous Cards and region-free Wallet, you always know where to find your Wallet cards.

Knowing exactly where your Wallet cards are, in Wallet or parked on the server, and how to really truly delete them from the cloud, makes using Apple Pay easier. When users understand that Apple Pay has their back, they trust and use it more. Trust is far more important than technology.

From now on the new rules are: removing a card only removes it from Wallet. Only the extra step of removing a credit/debit card from Previous Cards removes it completely from Apple ID. Stored value cards like Suica can only be deleted with the card issuer app.


ID in Wallet

iOS 15 devices
watchOS 8 devices
Launch states: Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, Utah

ID in Wallet is the biggest new iOS 15 Wallet feature, important enough that Apple announced details and launch states before the September Apple Event, which is unusual for a feature due late 2021 March 2022. The press release clearly explains (but does not show) the exact process for adding and using an ID, and the some security details behind it. Carefully crafted screen images clearly illustrate that ID in Wallet does not show detailed personal information, not even a full name, only the ID elements that will be transmitted by NFC to the TSA reader. Like Apple Pay, users do not need to unlock, show, or hand over their device to present their ID, they simply authorize and hold to the reader.

ID Security and Privacy
It looks slick but there are lots of interesting things Apple has not shown yet, like the actual adding process, that will certainly be highlighted at the September Event. Apple is advertising high level security and privacy for ID in Wallet but there are device distinctions security concerned users will want to know about, specifically Secure Intent.

Secure intent, in a very loose sense, is the user action of confirming ‘yes I want this transaction to proceed’ by double pressing a button (Face ID and Apple Watch) or a long press (Touch ID). But there are important differences: by Apple’s official definition, Face ID iPhone and Apple Watch are secure intent devices, Touch ID iPhone is not.

Secure intent provides a way to confirm a user’s intent without any interaction with the operating system or Application Processor. The connection is a physical link—from a physical button to the Secure Enclave…With this link, users can confirm their intent to complete an operation in a way designed such that even software running with root privileges or in the kernel can’t spoof…A double-press on the appropriate button when prompted by the user interface signals confirmation of user intent.

The most secure ID in Wallet secure intent transaction is a double press button authorization action that tells the secure enclave, where your biometrics are stored, to release authentication to the secure element, where your ID credentials are stored, for the transaction magic take place. Apple: “Only after authorizing with Face ID or Touch ID is the requested identity information released from their device, which ensures that just the required information is shared and only the person who added the driver’s license or state ID to the device can present it.” There is no Express Mode for ID card nor would you want there to be.

There is another aspect to consider, one that Apple certainly won’t divulge: who manages and runs the backend centralized mobile ID issue service that plugs into Apple Pay servers. The direct in Wallet ID card add process demonstrates a high level of integration: “Similar to how customers add new credit cards and transit passes to Wallet today, they can simply tap the + button at the top of the screen in Wallet on their iPhone to begin adding their license or ID.”

We can get an idea of what’s involved on the ID backend from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) English PDF document: First Summary Toward the Realization of Electronic Certificates for Smartphones with a diagram of the digital ID system architecture for the Individual Number Card (My Number). MIC are in discussions with Apple to bring the digital My Number ID to Wallet. The Android version is set to launch in 2022.

There has to be a partner service company that sub-contracts mobile ID issue services to participating state governments…somebody that does the heavy lifting of linking various state database servers to provide a centralized card issuing service so that Apple can provide a seamless ID add card experience. But it must be an independent entity that can provide the same set of backend ID issue services to other digital wallet platforms (Google Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.) at some point. Because if it is not an independent entity providing those services, Apple is inviting more claims that Apple Pay is a monopoly. It’s a mystery worth digging into. Nevertheless, Apple is paving the way by integrating ID issue directly in Wallet that eliminates crappy 3rd party apps. It’s a huge effort that hopefully makes digital ID easy, practical and widely used.


Digital Keys and Power Reserve Express Mode
Home, office and hotel keys are the first new iOS 15 Wallet feature on launch day. Where is the Add to Wallet Key Card category? There isn’t one. Keys are slightly different and cannot be added (issued for the first time) to Wallet directly because the mobile key issuing company has to confirm user identity before giving the key. The most common way to add keys for the first time is with an app. From the Apple car key support page:

Open the car manufacturer’s app and follow the instructions to set up a key…Depending on your vehicle, you might be able to add car keys from a link that your car maker sends to you in an email or text message, or by following steps on your car’s information display.

Keys removed from Wallet can be re-added quickly via Previous Cards. According to the iOS 15 and watchOS preview page, keys appear to come in 2 basic varieties, sharable and un-sharable, device specs are different depending on the type of key.

  • Sharable keys
    • Car keys with Ultra Wideband
    • iPhones and Apple Watches equipped with U1 chip (iPhone 11 • Apple Watch 6 and later)

    • Car keys (NFC)
    • Home keys
    • iPhone XS • Apple Watch 5 and later
  • Un-sharable keys
    • Office key
    • Hotel key
    • Device requirements may vary by hotel and workplace

All keys work in Express Mode as keys, unlike ID, require Express Mode to be useful. iPhone XS with A12 Bionic powered NFC supports Express Mode Power Reserve, a huge performance difference from previous Apple Silicon. The extra 5 hours of power reserve key access with a drained iPhone battery are crucial and it’s understandable why Apple set iPhone XS as the base iPhone for using car and home keys.

There might be conditions for office and hotel keys depending on the key issuer. In Japan for example iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE (1st generation) cannot be used for FeliCa based key access, hence the ‘device requirements may vary’ tag.

One more issue here is that mobile key issue is a complex process for hotels, and one assumes offices as well, one that usually requires an app with an account to securely issue a mobile key with set limitations (time, area, etc.).

It’s important to note that issuing digital keys is only one step of the complex process that allows guests to bypass the front desk. Apple’s announcement certainly does not spell the end of the hotel app as we know it…

It’s a big step toward streamlining a process that has, until this point, prevented many guests from using their phone as a digital room key. But, Wallet only solves one segment of the end-to-end operation required to get a guest checked in and room access issued. The bigger issue is connecting identity with access, which requires many more steps beyond issuing a key.

How Apple’s Newest Features Will Affect Hotel Check-in

Hyatt Hotel launched Room Keys in Apple Wallet in limited locations on December 8 (video). There are a few interesting requirements and other bits. (1) Bingo…reservations must be made in World of Hyatt app and can only be shared with one more device with the same Hyatt account, (2) Room key activated in Apple Wallet after checkin and room assignment, (3) hotel updates or deactivates room key in Wallet remotely, (4) Room key in Apple Wallet is never shared with Apple or stored on Apple servers, (5) The World of Hyatt app is run by ASSA ABLOY Vostio Access Management cloud-based solution. The word ‘sharing’ is never mentioned in the Hyatt announcement or ASSA ABLOY Vostio Access literature. No word what protocol is used but you might remember that ASSA ABLOY and Blackboard use MIFARE for Student ID.

Pairing an identity with access is the core difficulty dealing with digital key issue, sharing keys on different devices is a particularly thorny problem. If I had a crystal ball to read, I might see a future where your ID in Wallet is the only confirmation necessary to add a key directly in Wallet with an email link, no apps. It would be nice if things evolved that way over time. Perhaps that is one of Apple’s long term goals for releasing home-hotel-office keys and ID in the same iOS 15 product cycle.

Wallet expansion and housekeeping
The last improvement is that iOS 15 Wallet now holds up to 16 cards. The previous official limit was 12 cards (8 cards for pre-A11 iPhone), though Apple hasn’t mentioned the new limit in any support pages. If you have trouble adding more than 12, remove one taking the total down to 11 cards, then add more cards up to the new limit. The limit is defined as cards that use the secure element for transactions: payment cards, transit cards, keys, and ID. Passes don’t count and used passes are automatically cleared and stored in the new archived passes category. One hopes Wallet will do similar housekeeping for expired hotel keys in a later iOS 15 update.

The expansion seems trivial but 4 more parking spaces in Wallet garage is a godsend not only for card otaku but also for regular users who already have lots of payment and transit cards, it’s easy to hit the limit. The housekeeping changes are appropriate and timely, going forward we’ll all be adding car, home, office, and hotel keys along with our driver’s license to an ever growing Wallet.

UPDATE
An earlier edit of this post incorrectly stated that watchOS 8 Wallet did not support hotel and office keys (they were not listed on Apple’s watchOS 8 preview page but mentioned on a separate PR release). Apple PR reached out regarding the error and has been corrected.

Last updated 2021-12-09 (added Hyatt Hotel Wallet key beta test announcement)

Suica Smart-Lock service announced for December launch

JR East announced the Suica Smart-Lock service for a December launch. The service is a co-venture that incorporates JREM who provide the cloud based ID-Port technology and ART, an access system provider using FeliCa and MIFARE NFC technologies and lock provider/partner ALLIGATE. A Suica card (physical and mobile) can be registered online as a key and might utilize the ‘Super Suica’ FeliCa Secure ID cloud centric feature found in next generation FeliCa with JR East providing the backend authentication service. The Suica Smart-Lock site lists apartment buildings, hotels, company building access, parking lot and elevator use as end user scenarios.

The streamlined cloud aspect is being marketed as a cost saver: hosts don’t need to setup a key server or issue cards. The user simply registers their Suica ID number online but the ID number is not used for access, the unlocking part is done with secure mutual authentication. Management sets the key privileges or guest access. Other transit IC cards can be registered as a key but the press announcement fine print suggests some limitations with non-Suica cards (i.e. only Suica and PASMO are on mobile devices).

Mobile Suica support is shown extensively in the web images and the watch images strongly suggest Apple Watch which is the only wearable device, so far, that fully supports all Mobile Suica features. Another interesting aspect is that Apple’s iOS 15 Japanese language preview page only shows Wallet digital key support as a new feature. I think it’s safe to assume that Apple Pay Suica Express Transit support will be there with Suica Smart-Lock in December. The question is will there be a separate iOS 15 Wallet digital key version for people who only need the Suica Smart-Lock digital key function? Suica and transit IC cards are already used by some access solutions but key management and cost have kept them from wide deployment.

The Japanese iOS 15 preview site only shows digital keys for Wallet
Wallet digital key partners announced at WWDC21