Saturday, December 16, 2017

Kakao Map gets full English map imagery


Kakao Map received a major update this week. Not only is the interface in English, but now the map imagery itself is in English.

Screenshot showing Korean map tiles in former version (L) and new English map tiles in latest version (R)

Foreigners in Korea, rejoice! This means Kakao has made good on their promise to release a fully English mapping app for South Korea ahead of the 2018 Olympics. But of course this will be useful for any travelers and newly-arrived teachers/soldiers/tourists who need a high-quality English mapping app in Korea. 

The updated imagery should be available in both Android and iOS versions of the KakaoMap app, as of app versions 1.2.5 (Android) and 4.2.9 (iOS). Korean or English imagery will appear automatically depending on your device's language. 

I tried it out, and it looks pretty good. Here are some example screenshots showcasing the new English map imagery.

Kakao Map English map imagery samples


Seoul

Seoul Station

Busan

Incheon Airport island (Yeongjongdo)

Useful for Pyeongchang Olympics


I think this will be a useful option for tourists arriving for the Olympics next year. Getting to Pyeongchang can be a hassle, especially as Google Maps only shows (some) public transit options, and Naver Map is still Korean-only.

As has been possible since the English interface was added a few months back, you can get both public transit and driving directions easily. But conveniently, now you can easily browse what's around you even if you don't have a specific place in mind. This makes it convenient for finding restaurants and other points of interest, like post offices, gas stations, and medical centers.

Here's a sample:

Admin Office for Pyeongchang Olympics and the 'downtown' Pyeongchang area
 
Ski area near Pyeongchang. No clue if this is where any events will be held. I haven't caught the "Olympic fever" in many years, at least for the winter games. 

Driving directions from Seoul Station to downtown Pyeongchang

One issue that you can see in the screenshot above is that turn-by-turn directions are still given in Korean. Not great for a non-Korean speaking tourist. I'd recommend Bing or Waze if you need English-language navigation here.


Dokdo in English


Finally, it wouldn't be a proper map update if they didn't ensure Dokdo was well represented. Let's take a quick look.

Dokdo search results

English place names still a minor issue


Here's another minor issue with the English version of the app. It still has some problems with inputting place names in English. You can see that searching "Dokdo" returns 독도, which a tourist might be unfamiliar with. Even searches for popular tourist spots like "Seoul Station" are returned in Korean. A general search for "Pyeongchang" returned several locations within Seoul that include the name, such as 평창2교 bridge. So be careful when searching in English and verify the location on the map to make sure you're not guided 100 miles in the wrong direction.

Driving directions from Seoul Station to Dokdo. About 10 hours. Not bad. That taxi fee though... $430. Yikes. 

Cute how the travel line includes little boats for the ferry portion of the trip.

The bigger of the Dokdo islands, with convenient English landmarks 

Final thoughts


It's great to see Kakao continue to release quality products in English, as they also did recently with Kakao Taxi [here and here]. Note that this English imagery only applies to the mobile app. The desktop version of Daum Maps is still Korean-only. 

Another app worth trying, tailored to tourists but useful for any visitors, is "dropin"
🔗 dropin - Travel in Korea

Grab the latest versions of KakaoMap here, leave your Google Maps at home, and visit Korea comfortably in English.

🔗 KakaoMap - Map / Navigation - Android Apps on Google Play
🔗 KakaoMap - Korea No.1 Map on the App Store

Speaking of Google, their offline download doesn't work in Korea anyway, and Kakao doesn't offer such a feature. So if you're planning to visit Korea without a data plan and need mapping, you can download map areas on Naver Maps, but (for now) they haven't released an English version.


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