Are New Apple Maps Coming?

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) received some of the highest levels of criticism to its new maps app, first launched last September, in its rapidly growing market of Japan. And it appears the company has chosen the country to launch the first of its big improvements to its native navigation program. On Wednesday, Apple released the first beta version of its operating system iOS 6.1.1 in Japan with a host of changes to the maps application.

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In a note to developers accompanying the Japan release, Apple said the iOS 6.1.1 beta 1 included improved pronunciation of roads, optimized directions to more strongly prefer highways over narrower roads, indications for upcoming toll roads, added labels for junctions, interchanges, and intersections, and added indicators for transit station buildings, subway lines, and traffic lights. It also announced that all freeways would now be in the color green and also updated icons for location categories, including fire stations, hospitals, and post offices.

During the worldwide public release of the iOS 6.1 version of its mobile operating system last month, Apple had also announced a new Search API that would allow developers to query its maps servers to receive point-of-interest and location data.

Apple’s maps app, released alongside iOS 6 in September, received much criticism around the globe for its many data errors and the absence of transit options. It also lacked the Street View option of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps, which it replaced as a built-in option from iOS devices for the first time since 2007.

Japan, known to be a hard place to navigate around, was highly critical of the Apple application and quickly started looking for alternative programs. In Japan, most streets do not have names and house numbers are often assigned by order of registration, not location.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who wrote a letter to apology to customers soon after the launch of the new app, also addressed the situation during the company’s post-earnings conference call in January. “We’ve made a number of improvements to Maps, and will roll out even more improvements throughout the rest of the year,” Cook said. “We will continue making improvements until it lives up to our incredibly high expectations.”

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Like China, Japan is an increasingly important market for Apple, whose revenue in the country grew 25 percent year-over-year in the December-ended quarter.

Here’s how Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have traded this past week:

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