Why Apple's Transit Maps are rolling out so slowly

Posted:
in iPhone edited July 2016
A year ago, Apple launched Transit directions in iOS 9 Maps, but so far there's only a limited number of cities worldwide that support the new feature. Here's why.


Apple Transit Maps in New York City


Apple currently lists 19 cities (and "China") among its feature availability page for Transit Maps. Fifteen of those cities are in North America.

Given that Maps' transit directions were built upon acquisitions including HopStop and Embark, users might be left wondering why Apple still supports fewer cities than HopStop once did, and why new cities are coming online relatively slowly.

The answer has to do with the level of work involved, combined with a close attention to detail that's involved prior to launching transit directions in a new city.

A big job



Ellis Verosub, Apple's senior manager of Maps Transit, outlined the work going into bringing transit directions to new cities at the company's June Worldwide Developers Conference.

He noted Apple currently supports 21 cities, plus another 300 cities in China. Many of these "supported cities" are actually metropolitan areas that include several significant other cities.

For example, San Francisco includes transit directions 90 miles south to Monterey and Salinas, 65 miles north to Santa Rosa, 80 miles east to Stockton, and includes all of San Jose (technically a larger city than San Francisco) and Silicon Valley, as well as Oakland and the East Bay area.


Beyond rail lines, Apple Maps' San Francisco transit directions include many regional bus networks


Train schedules from the Greater Bay Area reach all the way to and slightly past Sacramento (the state capital 90 miles east), although that city is removed enough to be counted by Apple as being a separate transit city.

Apple has similarly stitched together a series of major U.S. cities on the Northeast, stretching from Boston to New York City to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Washington D.C., with train connections stretching north to Toronto in Canada and all the way west to Chicago.Apple currently gets data from over 250 transit agencies, and its station data maps over 16,000 station entrances across supported cities

Each of these areas involve not just adjacent cities and suburban areas, but a massive network of different, overlapping transit agencies. Verosub noted that Apple currently gets data from over 250 transit agencies, and its station data maps over 16,000 station entrances across supported cities.

Rather than just making some transit data available within Maps, Apple has crafted a transit-specific map that includes route lines of subways and streetcars, detailed station maps with labeled entrances, and includes real-time transit advisory information from agencies included in a given route.




Stops and stations in supported cities show each transit line that services that location, along with providing upcoming arrival information (below). Users can also select a line on the map and view that isolated route on the map to clarify where it goes.





Customized for each city



Apple's Maps team pays particular attention to local conventions, mapping transit lines and bus routes using the same signage riders will see, and using the vehicle descriptions and line designations native to each location.

For example, in San Francisco riders take "a Bart train" or board a Muni Metro, bus or streetcar (not to be confused with the city's tourist-attraction Cable Car, which is also both named and signed as riders would expect). Each type of service has custom station markers reflecting the appropriate signage of the agency that runs it.

However, in Berlin a rider would be told to board a Tram rather than a "streetcar," or the U-Bahn versus the "Metro." In London riders are told to board a given Underground "line" rather a "train," while in New York City, a subway line is conversely referred to a given "train," all due to local conventions.

Route directions also use local naming conventions with regard to direction. In New York City, trains might be headed "uptown or downtown," while in San Francisco the Muni Metro lines run "inbound or outbound."

A measured launch pace



The incremental rollout of transit cities in Maps is progressing in a markedly different fashion than Maps itself was launched back in iOS 6. Apple received significant blowback from users due to the fact that some parts of the globe had only minimal usable data for roads and points of interest, and that there were many visual errors and misplaced locations.

Apple's transit city launches also differ from the rollout of Google Maps, which rapidly expanded transit directions to new cities with incomplete or often simply wrong data. In Berlin, we earlier noted that Google only provided directions on a subset of the major lines--resulting in ridiculous path suggestions--while its arrival data for San Francisco was simply unreliable.

Apple initially relied on third party partners to provide transit routing from Maps, which helped the company to deliver better overall support for transit than Google's often provided (as depicted below back in 2012).


Apple's iOS 6 Maps vs Google Maps in 2012


As it builds out its own support for transit, Apple is now working to avoid more of the criticism it received earlier, while also avoiding the inaccuracy and unreliability seen in Google's frequently raw and incomplete transit data.

That attention to detail is particularly important when it comes to transit, because if users get a first impression that the data is incorrect or unreliable, they're likely to not give the app a second chance.

Delivering a polished transit experience requires a Maps development workflow that not only collects schedule data from transit agencies, but also involves original research and a local survey of specific transit details. Apple then curates an experience customized for each city before bringing its transit maps online.

That includes underground station outlines with labeled entrances, agency specific signs (particularly important in cities where multiple transit agencies may serve the same station), and real-world paths of transit lines to orient the user along their path.

Started in China



Prior to Apple announcing its Transit support in iOS 9 Maps last year, AppleInsider noted that Apple's Maps were already indicating transit subway lines, at least to users located within mainland China.

The data was (and is still not) available to users looking at Maps outside of the People's Republic of China, because it is derived from a different source, and licensed for use exclusively in China. Notably, Hong Kong--officially part of China--still lacks transit support from Apple Maps for users there and uses different Maps data.


Apple's iOS 8 Maps in China supplied some transit line data


As predicted, Apple brought similar transit line and station data to a series of new cities in iOS 9. In North America, Apple has appeared to begin with transit data in some of the largest cities first, then has incrementally connected nearby cities to create a network of transit data.

A similar pattern is emerging in Europe with London and Berlin (the only two areas currently supporting any transit directions there). Both cities now have national rail line information that covers a large area of the country. Berlin (shown below) includes rail routes stretching west to Hamburg and to Poznan, Poland to the east.




It might seem odd that Germany's Deutsche Bahn or Britain's National Rail haven't yet expanded across the entire country, but it appears that Apple's priority is to build support around cities where local transit is already complete, and then radiate lines outward to new supported cities as they come online.

That's also the case in the U.S.A., where national Amtrak service routes are currently only supported between certain cities. So while Portland and Seattle now have local transit data, there's still no train data connecting the two cities. There is, however, fairly comprehensive information related to neighboring counties' bus services that go to Portland's train station.

Apple could rapidly expand this intercity train data across the U.S. and Europe, and draft rough outlines of metro maps in more major cities, creating the illusion of greater coverage. However, Apple's approach of building out accurate and complete transit services for each city, and then incrementally connecting them together, builds confidence in its transit maps--at the expense of being a very slow process.

However, there's reason to think the pace of adding new transit cities will continue to improve.

Expanding in Japan for iOS 10



Apple has noted on its corporate site in Japan that iOS 10 Maps will be introducing detailed transit support across Japan, a country that features expensive local transit services (including multiple networks of public and privately-run subway systems in Tokyo) and a comprehensive national high speed rail system.


New transit maps for Japan in iOS 10


"Japanese public transportation is coming soon," Apple's Japanese site notes. "In Maps you will be able to search for transfer info and compare fares. Maps will show you all train line and station information above and below ground including connecting passageways at all major stations."

The effort required to detail all of Japan's lines and complex stations with multiple platforms and dozens of entrances--including Tokyo's Shinjuku (above), the world's largest and busiest train station complex--has likely been consuming much of Apple's transit team's attention.

Beyond China and Japan, Apple also has major customer bases in Taiwan and Hong Kong, both regions that make extensive use of transit and high speed rail connections.

Apple's new Maps team in India



In addition to gaining experience and hitting a stride in the program required to build out transit support for new locations, Apple has outlined its plans to focus attention on new Maps features from a development center in India.

In May, Apple detailed the opening of an office in Hyderabad tasked with accelerating development of Maps products for iOS, Mac and Apple Watch. The office is expected to employ 4,000 workers and was estimated by outsiders to involve a $25 million investment by the company.

"Apple is focused on making the best products and services in the world and we are thrilled to open this new office in Hyderabad which will focus on Maps development," stated Apple's chief executive Tim Cook at the time. "The talent here in the local area is incredible and we are looking forward to expanding our relationships and introducing more universities and partners to our platforms as we scale our operations."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    "England's National Rail"?? WTF? Can't you get anyone to write with a clue about geography outside Hicksville?
    gwydionacgmph
  • Reply 2 of 37
    dougddougd Posts: 289member
    I always use Google Maps, wish it was a selectable option on IOS
    pt123
  • Reply 3 of 37
    baconstangbaconstang Posts: 557member
    "England's National Rail"?? WTF? Can't you get anyone to write with a clue about geography outside Hicksville?
    Isn't DED referring to this...  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Rail ?
    lolliver
  • Reply 4 of 37
    DanielEranDanielEran Posts: 290editor
    Kanjo said:
    I don't agree. My take of the same WWDC 11 minute  maps"session" video.
    https://atadistance.net/2016/07/03/apple-maps-cultural-curation-or-cultural-imperialism/
    The session on Transit Maps talked about transit, not Apple's approach to Maps in general, which as the article noted, has suffered from a quick deployment of unfinished data. 

    On your blog, you look at Japan--a country that hasn't yet introduced its Maps Transit data--and make assumptions about how it will look based on an examination of how two data sources--Yelp and TripAdvisor--inconsistently label Shinto shrines. You also suggest Apple has a Christian bias in labeling religious sites, which is rather off the rails. 

    Compare how atrocious Apple's transit stop information was prior to adding Transit in the SF Bay Area: as I noted back in 2012, Apple didn't even have Caltrain stations in its HQ neighborhood labeled correctly, or sometimes at all. 

    I'd be careful about assuming how Japanese transit will turn out before seeing it. 
    radarthekatRayz2016stevehDeelronlolliverpatchythepiratemejsriccornchiplostkiwicreek0512
  • Reply 5 of 37
    softekysofteky Posts: 133member
    Apple bought "Embark NYC" to fold into Apple Maps and they have now shut off Embark NYC updates. How is NYC Subway in Apple Maps meant to work when an internet connection is required? Embark NYC pre-loaded subway schedules, a subway map and alerts. None of these features work within Apple Maps without an internet connection. Does Apple know that NYC subway is mostly underground and has little cell-based or WiFi connection. Apple, what's the strategy here? Who knows what they're doing?
  • Reply 6 of 37
    acgmphacgmph Posts: 48member
    "England's National Rail"?? WTF? Can't you get anyone to write with a clue about geography outside Hicksville?
    LOL. 
    Maybe the author is predicting that Scotland and N. Ireland will leave the UK after Brexit. Still doesn't explain Wales though :smile: 
    Same thing with Holland instead of The Netherlands. There are actually two Hollands (North and South) and confuses the hell outta me when I hear it referenced in the US, makes me think "which Holland are they talking about??"
    baconstang
  • Reply 7 of 37
    KanjoKanjo Posts: 4member
    Kanjo said:
    I don't agree. My take of the same WWDC 11 minute  maps"session" video.
    https://atadistance.net/2016/07/03/apple-maps-cultural-curation-or-cultural-imperialism/
    The session on Transit Maps talked about transit, not Apple's approach to Maps in general, which as the article noted, has suffered from a quick deployment of unfinished data. 

    On your blog, you look at Japan--a country that hasn't yet introduced its Maps Transit data--and make assumptions about how it will look based on an examination of how two data sources--Yelp and TripAdvisor--inconsistently label Shinto shrines. You also suggest Apple has a Christian bias in labeling religious sites, which is rather off the rails. 

    Compare how atrocious Apple's transit stop information was prior to adding Transit in the SF Bay Area: as I noted back in 2012, Apple didn't even have Caltrain stations in its HQ neighborhood labeled correctly, or sometimes at all. 

    I'd be careful about assuming how Japanese transit will turn out before seeing it. 
    Let's agree to disagree.
    Thanks for taking the time to read my post and write your response. I look forward to seeing your future posts on the subject.
    lostkiwi
  • Reply 8 of 37
    jlanddjlandd Posts: 873member

    Apple bought "Embark NYC" to fold into Apple Maps and they have now shut off Embark NYC updates. How is NYC Subway in Apple Maps meant to work when an internet connection is required? Embark NYC pre-loaded subway schedules, a subway map and alerts. None of these features work within Apple Maps without an internet connection. Does Apple know that NYC subway is mostly underground and has little cell-based or WiFi connection. Apple, what's the strategy here? Who knows what they're doing?
    It pretty ridiculous currently, but I'm assuming Apple is counting on the cellular updates and free wifi (thanks to Boingo antennae) to be completed in all stations as promised in 2017.  They say it's all installed except for 90 stations, but you'd be pretty lucky to be waiting for a train in Manhattan and have service based on my experience.  But they probably saved the hardest for last.  Or maybe they were confused by the figures that included the 40% of the stations that are above ground in the open air anyway?  Regardless, Apple says an offline transit map and schedule like Embark used to be is not what we should be using, so that's that.  I am, however, looking forward to articles abour subway wifi security breaching being the newest craze.
    baconstang
  • Reply 9 of 37
    croprcropr Posts: 966member
    The explanation of DED is pathetic: there is only one reason for the slow roll out and it is called incompetence driven by lack of experience and management attention.  It takes way too long to launch services in local languages with local content.  It is not limited to Apple Transit Maps, other services like Siri, Apple News, Apple Pay suffer from the same disease.  Apple is a very US centric company (with a global sales channel).  Google on the other hand is a really global company.  Public transport integration was added to Google maps for a whole country at a tenfold speed Apple is adding just a single city
    stolalexmaccnocbuiksecpropodmjhnl
  • Reply 10 of 37
    hemslhemsl Posts: 1member
    "England's National Rail"?? WTF? Can't you get anyone to write with a clue about geography outside Hicksville?
    Ironically, Apple doesn't recognise Britain's National Rail as existing anywhere except England (and only south of Liverpool at that).

    I'd like to agree with the argument that Apple is favouring accuracy and completeness over speed. Unfortunately, in the case of London at least, roll-out was slow AND is still inaccurate. Apple Maps' Transport for London bus feed bears no resemblance to reality on the ground. Citymapper's data, on the other hand, always matches the countdown information displayed at bus stops, which is pretty accurate. I can't prove that Citymapper is right, but these screenshots prove that someone is wrong...

     
  • Reply 11 of 37
    Totally not buying it. Google Maps had every single major city that I travel to (and I travel a lot) pretty much instantly. Apple Maps has none of the major cities that I travel to still and it has been a much longer time frame.
    pt123cnocbuirhonintokyojimu
  • Reply 12 of 37
    kevin keekevin kee Posts: 1,142member
    I am happy with Apple Transit Map in Sydney. Much better than Google version, IMHO.

    Saying that, and I do understand it takes time to painstakingly add the details for each different countries, it's not wise to rush this. Apple's one city at a time approach for their free Transit Map service ensures its credibility. I would rather Apple takes time to polish it before move to another city. Transit network is extremely complicated not to mention it can be a mess. Some people might feel left out, but Apple Maps and its Transit service needs user support instead of abandoning them.
    kitatitDanielEranmacsince1988creek0512waverboy
  • Reply 13 of 37
    ipilyaipilya Posts: 191member
    cropr said:
    Google on the other hand is a really global company.  Public transport integration was added to Google maps for a whole country at a tenfold speed Apple is adding just a single city
    Here in Spain.... I have learned to never trust google mapping!!! As much as I love Waze (yes I know its not google maps) - its directions are simply horrid and surprisingly, Apple maps has worked out for me very well. Which is a shame because the crowd sourced data in Waze is indispensable
    kitatitcornchipcreek0512
  • Reply 14 of 37
    kitatitkitatit Posts: 36member
    I get it that it's a big task building out Apple maps, but every time I see Apple do a multi billion dollar buy back, I think how many people around the world they could employ on a temerry or permanent basis to do the local hands on mapping and data entry required to accelerate the build of Apple maps. 

    Now I'm no expert on the value of buy backs, but the tens of billions spent don't seem to be good value in regards to Apple maintaining its "It just works reputation"

    What good have the buy backs really done  except line the pockets of self interested twerps like Carl Ichan? See ya Carl......

    Spend this money on maps and on debugging iOS before each release. With this much money to throw around, Apple maps should be the gold standard in every way.  Apple maps isn't bad, but it's not fantastic and that's what we expect when we pay top dollar.

    Maps is absolutely essential to most people I know with a smart phone. My girlfriend and many fellow iOS users, have abandoned using Apple maps altogether, which is a real shame. I was helping a workmate look for a house to rent and was showing him the property using flyover. He was amazed as most people are. He didn't even know where to find Apple maps on his phone. It was buried in a folder collecting dust. 

    Say Apple maps to many people and their response is "What's that" or "Google maps is much better"  Unacceptable for a company with this much cash. Yes, share holders are important too but take care of the foundation of your success first..... Your customers.... They are your best sales reps. I encourage my friends and family to use Apple products but sometimes, the product doesn't sell itself.

    Spend the money Apple, before the perception and catch phrase becomes "It just doesn't work"


    propod
  • Reply 15 of 37
    kitatitkitatit Posts: 36member

    kevin kee said:
    I am happy with Apple Transit Map in Sydney. Much better than Google version, IMHO.

    Saying that, and I do understand it takes time to painstakingly add the details for each different countries, it's not wise to rush this. Apple's one city at a time approach for their free Transit Map service ensures its credibility. I would rather Apple takes time to polish it before move to another city. Transit network is extremely complicated not to mention it can be a mess. Some people might feel left out, but Apple Maps and its Transit service needs user support instead of abandoning them.
    Encouraging to know Sydney's has been done well. Our train network here in Perth is of course smaller than Sydney's but runs quiet smoothly and on time. It's exciting to know I'll hopfully be able to use transit direction when Apple adds it in a year or two.

    Is it integrated with Siri? If so, how do you interact? Say you were in Newtown and wanted to get to Manly via the ferry. Would it successfully route you to the ferry via train?
    DanielEran
  • Reply 16 of 37
    maclvr03maclvr03 Posts: 188member
    ipilya said:
    cropr said:
    Google on the other hand is a really global company.  Public transport integration was added to Google maps for a whole country at a tenfold speed Apple is adding just a single city
    Here in Spain.... I have learned to never trust google mapping!!! As much as I love Waze (yes I know its not google maps) - its directions are simply horrid and surprisingly, Apple maps has worked out for me very well. Which is a shame because the crowd sourced data in Waze is indispensable
    I too do love Waze crowd sourcing. However their directions suck. If I know where I'm going I just have Waze up but I don't rely on it otherwise. I thought Google bought them? If so, why aren't they using Google as the search for directions? 

    Personally I'm always more comfortable and trust Google maps more than Apple Maps. 
    DanielEran
  • Reply 17 of 37
    DanielEranDanielEran Posts: 290editor
    softeky said:
    Apple bought "Embark NYC" to fold into Apple Maps and they have now shut off Embark NYC updates. How is NYC Subway in Apple Maps meant to work when an internet connection is required? Embark NYC pre-loaded subway schedules, a subway map and alerts. None of these features work within Apple Maps without an internet connection. Does Apple know that NYC subway is mostly underground and has little cell-based or WiFi connection. Apple, what's the strategy here? Who knows what they're doing?
    You have to run before you can fly. 
    I previously asked Apple for better offline caching, and offline maps would also be great. 
    While it is useful to have data service underground, it's also more typical that a user would calculate a route before they were actually in the subway. 
  • Reply 18 of 37
    DanielEranDanielEran Posts: 290editor

    kitatit said:
    I get it that it's a big task building out Apple maps, but every time I see Apple do a multi billion dollar buy back, I think how many people around the world they could employ on a temerry or permanent basis to do the local hands on mapping and data entry required to accelerate the build of Apple maps. 

    Now I'm no expert on the value of buy backs, but the tens of billions spent don't seem to be good value in regards to Apple maintaining its "It just works reputation"

    What good have the buy backs really done  except line the pockets of self interested twerps like Carl Ichan? See ya Carl......

    Spend this money on maps and on debugging iOS before each release. With this much money to throw around, Apple maps should be the gold standard in every way.  Apple maps isn't bad, but it's not fantastic and that's what we expect when we pay top dollar.

    Maps is absolutely essential to most people I know with a smart phone. My girlfriend and many fellow iOS users, have abandoned using Apple maps altogether, which is a real shame. I was helping a workmate look for a house to rent and was showing him the property using flyover. He was amazed as most people are. He didn't even know where to find Apple maps on his phone. It was buried in a folder collecting dust. 

    Say Apple maps to many people and their response is "What's that" or "Google maps is much better"  Unacceptable for a company with this much cash. Yes, share holders are important too but take care of the foundation of your success first..... Your customers.... They are your best sales reps. I encourage my friends and family to use Apple products but sometimes, the product doesn't sell itself.

    Spend the money Apple, before the perception and catch phrase becomes "It just doesn't work"
    Unfortunately, you can't simply throw down twice the money and build out products or services twice as fast.

    As Steve Jobs once said--when being castigated by a shareholder over the decision to delay Mac OS X Jaguar in order to focus on iPhone in 2007:

    "I wish developing great products was as easy as writing a check. If that was the case, Microsoft would have great products."

    Apple is spending money to build out new services. If it could move faster, clearly it could because it has lots of money (particularly for overseas projects like the Indian dev centers and Chinese retail stores. But you can't simply go faster by throwing around more money. If you could, Google would be growing faster and successfully entering new businesses like hardware products and robots. Instead, they're just blowing money into flames. 

    It's easy to look at Maps and wonder why certain things are (apparently) being prioritized (like Flyover Tours) while essential details in big cities with large numbers of users (and core features like search) appear to be languishing. But easy problems are easier and faster to solve. The hard stuff takes time to figure out.

    Stock buybacks are a no-brainer because investors see too much accumulation of cash as a negative, because cash holdings count against how well the company is effectively using its capital. Returning it to shareholders via buybacks improves these metrics by getting rid of the cash and effectively investing it into Apple itself. 


    You may hear your circle (and columnists) talking about how much better they think Google Maps is, but actual users are (statistically, as in scientific evidence) preferring to use what's already on the phone. Google will have to be more than just a little better to remain something that anyone at all (currently about a third) actively seeks out. As Apple's Maps continue to improve, the number of people seeking out an alternative drops. 
    patchythepiratekitatitbadmonknolamacguywaverboy
  • Reply 19 of 37
    DanielEranDanielEran Posts: 290editor

    Ever the Apple apologist. I don't get this guy. Hey, I think Apple products are great, usually the best in their segment. But with Daniel, Apple can do no wrong. I mean NONE. I don't even think he's on the payola-roll. It's like he's that too-smart-for-school junior high kid who never outgrew his propensity for arguing with his friends about why Apple is the best. Seriously dude, go find a girlfriend. Or a different girlfriend. Lean on your staff more. 
    Your argument would carry more weight if you actually expressed a coherent, differing opinion and supported it with facts, rather than just pouting and implying fantastical corruption and hurling weak attempts at insult. 
    patchythepiratelostkiwinolamacguy
  • Reply 20 of 37
    rotateleftbyterotateleftbyte Posts: 1,186member
    hemsl said:
    "England's National Rail"?? WTF? Can't you get anyone to write with a clue about geography outside Hicksville?
    Ironically, Apple doesn't recognise Britain's National Rail as existing anywhere except England (and only south of Liverpool at that).

    I'd like to agree with the argument that Apple is favouring accuracy and completeness over speed. Unfortunately, in the case of London at least, roll-out was slow AND is still inaccurate. Apple Maps' Transport for London bus feed bears no resemblance to reality on the ground. Citymapper's data, on the other hand, always matches the countdown information displayed at bus stops, which is pretty accurate. I can't prove that Citymapper is right, but these screenshots prove that someone is wrong...

     
    I've navigated around London since the mid 1960's and never felt the need for this sort of data. Back then all we had was an A-Z street map (in a book). That had a Tube map on the back. That was it.
    All I need now is the Tube Map (ingrained in my brain by now), somewhere to find the first and last train/tube/bus times and the Tube line status. This is available at the entrances to stations.
    There will be almost always another tube along soon. Even Overground (North London Line) runs most of the day every 10-15 minutes. There are indicators at most stations that tell you when the next train will be along and where it is heading.
    Seeing some people totally confused by far too much information the other week in central London I stepped in to offer my help.
    Two minutes later the group were on their way. They were in sight of their destination (<200yds away) yet the directions said take a bus.
    I see this almost every day in London. People need to use their eyes a lot more and rely less on the devices in their hands.
    Just my bent penny's worth.
    lostkiwicopelandcnocbuizimmermannwaverboyDanielEran
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