Yesterday Google launched Google Maps Navigation for Android 2.0 and with it crushed the stock prices of Tom Tom and Garmin, makers of dedicated navigation devices. The question of whether or not we’ll see Google Maps Navigation come to other platforms has yet to be answered, but knowing Google’s previous moves in the mapping space, it’s pretty much an inevitability.
Why is Google dominating the mapping space with such force? The answer lies with the cost of maps. If anyone with enough entrepreneurial spirit wanted to create a competitor to Google Maps, Bing Maps, or Ovi Maps, they would soon realize that they would have to secure mapping data, at a great cost mind you, from the two largest players on the market: Tom Tom, who purchased Tele Atlas in 2007, or NAVTEQ, who was purchased by Nokia during the same year. Entering the mapping space is not easy financially and that is why we’ve seen little competition.
Google Maps is fantastic, I use it on a near daily basis, but how much better could it be if anyone could build a mapping service? I’m not talking about using the Google Maps API to overlay your data on top of a Google Map, or the Ovi Maps Player API, which is an exact clone of Google’s, I’m talking about making mapping data open and free and allowing the same city center to be rendered in millions of different ways depending on the context of what a user wants to visualize. There is already an effort taking place on the internet right now to do just that, and it’s called OpenStreetMap (OSM), but they need help.
If I was Nokia I would donate every last bit of mapping data collected by NAVTEQ to OSM and just sit back and watch to see what happens. Anyone in the world would be able to use that data, and with it usher in a long due renaissance in the world of mapping. This isn’t about OpenStreetMap beating Google Maps, this is about allowing the creation of many mapping services.
If you think about it, honestly, how much better has Google Maps become since it was launched in February 2005? Sure, we now have Google Maps on mobile, but that’s because we had to wait for Google to make their maps available on the go. If access to the data of all the buildings, and all the streets on this Earth was available for anyone to build upon, with no licensing fees, and no strict conformity to the aesthetic dictated by one company, a 3rd party could have not only beaten Google to the mobile maps game, but may have created an entirely new user experience.
Think about it Nokia. You’ve been playing the open card a lot lately. First with Maemo, then with Symbian, now do the same thing with NAVTEQ. It’s the only way you’re going to beat Google at maps. They’ve got smarter people, more of them, and they stand the most to lose so they’re going to defend what they’ve got to the death if you try to out innovate them with Ovi Maps.
Google disrupted the mapping space by making navigation free, your turn to disrupt the mapping space by making maps free as in speech.