Why Apple Pay Suica is a success and Apple Maps is not

Inbound Apple Pay Suica user experiences are endlessly fascinating and occasionally enlightening. This tweet video captures the usual ‘whoa, that’s fast’ first time reaction.

The responses are equally interesting with a few ‘so what? we have that in (London, Moscow, China, etc.)’ which is true but it’s not the same. Almost all of them are slower, don’t have e-money functions, don’t have nationwide coverage and are not hosted natively on pay platforms like Apple Pay or Google Pay. They rely on slow buggy EMV contactless credit card transactions on transit gates instead, in short they are not transit payment platforms.

Apple Pay Suica is clearly a great service and success that has not only changed contactless payments in Japan but changed Apple as well, with Apple incorporating global FeliCa and implementing A-12 Bionic powered Express Card with power reserve technology which matches the performance of dedicated Sony FeliCa Chips on the A-Series.

What makes Apple Pay Suica a success? It is a unique layering of hardware and software that tightly integrates into a single seamless experience. At the core is the basic Suica IC card format and the transit gate system technology was created by JR East and Sony in the 1980s to solve a user experience problem with magnetic commuter pass cards. Successive layers were added over time: e-money, nationwide Transit IC card interoperability, and perhaps most important of all, Mobile Suica. The Super Suica additions will further enhance the fundamental technology in 2021.

Apple Pay support arrived in October 2016, global FeliCa was added in 2017. These were 2 layers from Apple that fit perfectly and extended the entire platform with a whole new ease of use service level. The result is a service where each layer builds on and enhances the whole. This is Steve Jobs 101: work from the user experience back to the technology so that the total experience is greater than the sum of the parts.

The Apple Maps problem
Contrast this with Apple Maps. Justin O’Beirne recently published a detailed progress report of Apple’s ‘new’ (in America only) map. There was surprisingly little discussion on tech blog sites, Nick Heer was one of the few to share a few observations. O’Beirne and Heer both focus on data collection and prioritization as the core problem for Apple to fix if Apple is ever going to close the map gap with Google. I think that is a misconception that got Apple Maps in trouble in the first place.

I’ve never seen data collection as the biggest problem that Apple needs to fix. In Japan for example the data collection problem can be solved quickly by swapping out 3rd rate data suppliers with first tier JP suppliers like Zenrin who already field large data collection and verification teams. Google and Yahoo Maps Japan both use Zenrin and build on top of that solid foundation with their own data.

Integration and coordination have been, and continue to be the biggest problem. If Apple cannot do a good job integrating and coordinating different map service layers so that they build on each other, it will continue to be what it is now: a collection of loosely connected technology services that don’t work together very well and tend to pull each other down instead of up. A few examples:

  • Transit
    Apple has a very good Japanese transit data supplier Jourdan, the same one Google uses. Unfortunately the good transit data gets wasted by the limited search and sort App Maps transit UI that is completely manual, doesn’t dynamically update travel times or arrival estimates, or even provide location-based alerts when you arrive. Those kinds of integrated transit notifications on Apple Watch alone would sell a lot more devices.
  • Siri
    Siri is one the most important service layers for integrating navigation, transit and indoor maps. Unfortunately Siri is poorly connected where it should be hooked into every nook and cranny. Japanese Siri can locate the nearest station, usually, but that’s it. Siri doesn’t do transit searches or suggestions.
  • Navigation
    Turn by turn has been offered in Japan for a few years but it still basically useless without traffic information, which is still missing. Lane Guidance was only added just recently.
  • Data Duplication
    This happens all the time as Apple fails at coordinating and verifying data sets from different JP suppliers.

And so on. I included data duplication as it illustrates my basic point that no matter how good the basic data collection is, it’s worthless without a robust integration and coordination process. A smart team of human editors with deep local knowledge understand how services should connect, what works and how it should work. A truly  great team also knows how to focus and do more, much more, with less. This is impossible to achieve with the current one size fits all mentality.

Apple Maps Japan is a classic ‘the total is less than the sum of its parts‘ product. To be sure there are some good parts, but in Japan they don’t add up. The different layers stay separate and never integrate into a seamless whole like Apple Pay Suica does. It’s great that Apple is making process with its map reboot effort in America but the real test will be how well they integrate it all. A laser focus and smart integration is the only way Apple can close the map gap with Google.

Advertisements

Another Google Maps Moat News Cycle

Buckle up map fans, another Google Maps vs. Apple Maps news cycle just arrived. In case you forgot the cycle goes like this:

  • Justin O’Beirne posts a new analysis
  • Tech writers swoon (Gruber following Heer right on cue) but one of them says, “I don’t use Google Maps, Apple Maps works just fine for me.”
  • Overseas commentators clock in saying “that might be true in the USA but Apple Maps suck here in XXX.

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>

But

Apple Maps still relies too much on 3rd rate 3rd party data supplies like TomTom, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. <ditto>

And

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:Apple's New Map Footnote

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.

Apple Is Rebuilding Maps From The Ground Up

Apple Map vans coming to Japan was just a small taste of things to come. Matthew Panzarino got the big scoop on the new Apple Maps. In addition to Apple collecting their own map data, cartography is also due for a major makeover.

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 Japan Quick Point: Ikebukuro Station Underground

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.

Yahoo Japan Maps is the winner here.

Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: Ikebukuro Station

Tech writers go crazy for in depth digital map comparisons but I think quick glance comparisons are better and tell you more. Here’s a quick look at Ikebukuro station in Tokyo with Apple Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Maps should use ‘on the street’ signage so that users can visually orient themselves. The real world and the virtual world must connect. Everyone in Japan knows that station exits look like this:

Yellow. How much yellow do you see in Apple Maps? The Apple Maps cartography team did not bother matching station exit colors with the real world, stations and exits are purple. The transit team however got the yellow exit color right. Unfortunately the teams did not coordinate the information. A confusing map.

Apple Maps Ikebukuro Station
Apple Maps Ikebukuro Station in transit route mode

What’s shocking is that Google Maps does not bother showing station exits at all. Good luck telling your Google Maps user friend to meet up at Ikebukuro Station East Exit.

As usual Yahoo Japan Maps gets it right again.