What Does the Apple/Google Map Wars Mean for Campus Mapping?

As most of you have noticed, Apple launched their own mapping platform bundled with the launch of iOS6. Actually, it’s kind of hard not to hear about it with all the press around the iPhone, in some cases with nice comedic effect. Since mapping is our entire world, hopefully you knew that we would have a take on it, right?

Apple Wants Control

Let’s get right to the business point here. The reason that Apple launched their own mapping solution is because they want more control and data. It really isn’t that different than the reason Google has built a great mapping tool. The more geographical data you have the more and better ads you can serve. There is no shortage of forecasting data that tells you that local dominates mobile ad spend. Also, data is power. The problem is that by all accounts and from my own personal testing, Apple has actually put themselves into a scenario where they are offering users an inferior mapping solution.

Let’s Not Forget About Amazon

But it doesn’t end there. At just the beginning of last week Amazon debuted their own Maps API for individuals to build applications for their Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon is licensing Nokia’s location platform for maps and geocoding. Just this past summer Amazon also purchased UpNext – a 3D mapping company – so you have to assume they figure into Amazon’s reach into mapping. I think that similar to Apple, Amazon also wants control. In the grand scheme of things Amazon’s Map API is EXTREMELY limiting in its current state. It is only useful to developers who want to build mapping solutions for a Kindle Fire at the moment – meaning those developers would end up having to support several different map API schemes if they release their apps for Apple, Android , and the Kindle (and don’t discount the value of community driven efforts like OpenStreetMaps). Developers don’t like writing code over and over, however.

The Future is Geolocation

Smartphones are the fastest growing technology in history and there are many people in parts of the world where a smartphone will be their first computer. One of the most powerful features of a smartphone is that it is always with you. It can tell you where you are while also telling the companies and platforms who run the technology all about you. Any pay per click (PPC) marketer will tell you of the value of geo-targeting ads and through geolocation advertisers will be able to target ads and relevant information to you on levels never possible before. Location brings additional relevance to everything we do and these large businesses know that too. This is the real reason these companies want control of this on their own platform instead of ceding it all to Google.

So What Does This Mean For Campus Mapping?

The truth is, we hate it from a macro level but love it on our micro level. From a macro level the last thing that mapping needs is more fragmentation. This is especially true when the new offerings are substantially inferior to what is already a staple in the marketplace. From an app developer standpoint you now have three different mapping tools that you need to integrate with depending on the device you are building. This creates additional work and barriers to cross platform support.

From a micro level I believe this recent article from the Wall Street Journal makes some very valid points:

  • Clients often want “something like a Google map but [they] don’t want it by Google”.
  • Publicly-available maps are commonly full of small errors that add up to making them unusable by the masses.
  • Data being generated by volunteers is building a Wikipedia like community with a goal of making user-generated maps that are more detailed than anything even the biggest corporations can compete with.

You see, the problem is that the corporations realize the power of controlling this data, but the industry as a whole is pulled down by this fragmentation. That’s because the rationale is selfish on the part of the corporations. Apple didn’t get into mapping to provide a better experience to users, they got into it to own the data and profit from it. As the WSJ article calls it, customers are paying a “strategy tax”. A better approach would be collaborating on open standards. Until then, we’ll continue to produce beautiful and engaging interactive campus maps that allow visitors to virtually experience your campuses, free of corporate baggage and flexible in ways that make sense to you as a user and your visitors as consumers.

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  • Karlyn September 25, 2012  

    Kyle, I have a question on one of those points – you quoted the wsj article that said people want something like a google map, but not by google. Do you think that has more to do with the functionality of a google map or a reflection of google the company?

  • George Sackett September 25, 2012  

    I think you hit the mark on this one.

  • Joel G Goodman September 25, 2012  

    What everyone wants (and perhaps just doesn’t know it) is publicly held and managed platforms. This isn’t just in maps – it’s in calendaring/scheduling, microblogging, ratings and reviews… All of these things that we participate in day-in and day-out are limited by their corporate owners, and I think the maps issue is one of the very early ones to come to a head on this issue (the Twitter API changes being another).

    The large problem is that, realistically, we’ll never get those open platforms because the barrier to entry is so high. Google has a decade of mapping experience and data under its belt. Apple is not quite 10 years behind, due to acquisitions and others strategic plays, but they’re pretty close. There’s a lot of work to be done by other companies to bring this is.

    So, if the Wikipedia-esque information sourcing turns out, it’ll be a shame. In the instance of Wikipedia, they’re not making massive amounts of money off the community’s knowledge. With Google, Apple, Amazon, etc., that information will be assimilated and used to make their products better, while at the same time holding the insights within that data hostage. Interesting times, indeed.

  • Kyle James October 1, 2012  

    @Karlyn – My understanding of the article is more that people/companies want their own control of the content still. So they get a map illustration. Not only is the map illustration a better marketing tool than Google Street View but it is something they control. Businesses still feel the need to control their own assets in this fashion and they want something that looks better. I guess I specifically quoted this because I think it resignates completely with our customer base and is more confirmation in what we are doing. Our product is “google like” but not Google.