How It Works

Mapping the Apple Watch

Using the Apple Watch to get lost and un-lost is always interesting. Unless you use Google Maps. Then it sucks.

While in Japan, I had the chance to use my Apple Watch to get around and I figured out something.

For walking or driving, the Apple Map app is the best to use with the Apple Watch. Not only do you get turn by turn directions with the haptic taps, but you can quickly see what’s next if you’re not sure what side of the street to be on. The haptics I love:

A steady series of 12 taps means turn right at the intersection you’re approaching; three pairs of two taps means turn left…

I use this feature constantly. It’s brilliant to be able to walk around and enjoy the area I’m in without worrying that I’ll get too terribly lost. As I walked through Kanda, my wrist tapped “tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap” and I turned left like a boss. The only time I used my phone was when I was at a five-way intersection. I can even use it to walk from my father’s apartment to his mother-in-law’s house a few blocks away. Or the 7-Eleven (which are awesome in Japan).

For public transportation, the Google Maps app is brilliant. No. It’s phenomenal. Ueno station, in Tokyo, is one of the more complicated and confusing stations I’ve ever seen. It’s crowded, it has a damn shopping mall on top of it, and it’s where seventeen major train lines meet. The Google Map can, most of the time, tell me what track to be on and when for what train.

Ueno makes Penn Station look tiny.

But Google Maps can’t do ‘both.’ In fact, I’ve learned the Google Maps app is getting worse at things. You see, you go through Ueno to the Keisei Skyliner (the train to the airport) when you take the train from my dad’s apartment to Narita. It’s very simple. Takasaki line from Ageo to Ueno, exit Ueno via the South (not the Park) exit. Turn right. Pass the duck. Done.

Instead of showing you a walking route, when I asked Google Maps to get me to Narita, it drew a straight-as-the-crow-flies line from Ueno Station to Keisei Skyliner. Yeah. Not so much there, Google-San.

It only got worse when I wanted to take the train from Ageo to Kanda for WordCamp. You’d think that Google would be able to alert me, since they have an Apple Watch App, with taps “Hey, get off the train at the next stop.” But they don’t. In fact, the Apple Watch app just lists the directions, not very well, and doesn’t give me alerts. Even worse, you can’t easily track from the iPhone to the Watch. When I put in a direction on my Apple Maps, it automatically triggers the map on my Watch. Google Maps only shows ‘recent searches’ and Work and Home.

It’s an absolute fail to use the technology properly.

To make Google Maps ‘right’ for the Watch is pretty simple.

  1. Direction alerts. Tell me when to turn left or right. Steal it from Apple or make your own.
  2. Change train alerts. Tell me when I should get up. This will prevent people from sleeping through their stops.
  3. Give me easy directions to anywhere. Let me set up a path on my phone and immediately transfer it to my Watch.
  4. Use Siri. “Hey Siri, use Google Maps to get me home.”

Four things. I’d settle for the first two, though I think the first three should be a priority for user experience.

Until then, I’ll have to use my iPhone for transportation in a strange land, and my Watch for walking around the planet.