Google’s growth over they years has been typically predicated on leveraging internal technology acquired through development (i.e. search) or purchase (i.e. YouTube). Google Maps is an exception in this story of growth as they don’t own the principal underlying mapping technology/data set needed to make it work in Europe and the U.S.
Historically Google used both NavTeq and Teleatlas data sets as the foundation of their mapping products. It is possible that they intended to purchase one of these companies but over the past year, both were companies were snapped up, Navteq by Nokia and TeleAtlas by TomTom.
Nokia, the world’s largest handset maker, is rapidly moving into the world of online & mobile data (via Ovi) and attempting to make an integrated hw/sw mobile ecosystem. TomTom is primarily involved in personal navigation devices (PNDs). I am not privy to Google thinking but it was likely that Nokia was perceived as the more powerful threat and competitor as the world moved to mobile. It seems likely that Google chose one data supplier for Maps to maximize their relationship and minimize potential current and future competitive conflicts.
Google chose to align themselves exclusively with TomTom/TeleAtlas as their provider of map data. This appears to have been both a strategic and technical decision. While TeleAtlas’s data set was not as comprehensive as NavTeq’s, leading to (hopefully) short term accuracy problems, they seemed to be positioned to take advantage of the synergy of their relationship with TomTom to dramatically improve the data quality and keep it up to date.
Historically map data collection has been a very time and labor intensive process that limited the rate of map improvements. Over the past 4 months, TeleAltas and TomTom have leveraged their relationship and technologies to dramatically improve the quality and rate of the upgrade of the underlying map data with a very sophisticated system of user generated content (UGC). In fact TomTom has just announced the 5 millionth mapping improvement from UGC and 1000% growth in the user base of contributors. Here is a snippet from their press release that shows the power of this technology to make maps correct and keep them up to date:
“Community involvement via Map Share is an essential aspect of TomTom’s ‘best maps’ offering, allowing end users to take an active role in helping TomTom ensure our maps are most in line with real-life driving conditions,” said Jocelyn Vigreux, president of TomTom Inc. “To put this five million milestone in perspective: a one-hour trip made anywhere in North America or Europe will be influenced by twenty to thirty Map Share updates. The significance of the milestone also becomes clear when one compares it to the 15,000 reports that Tele Atlas receives on average per month from end users via its online map reporting system, Map Insight.”
Some interesting facts about Map Share changes include:
– Hundreds of thousands of street names have been added;
– Close to a million roads that were incorrectly blocked (or open) are now included (or excluded) from TomTom routes
Apparently though, even the Google TeleAtlas relationship is not without the potential for conflict. TomTom is now releasing, in beta, a web based Mapping product called Route Planner.
According to their website their product has the following advantages:
TomTom’s online Route Planner is the best way to plan your trip online. It uses TomTom’s expertise in navigation and smart mapping to give you the best information you need to plan ahead.
Live Traffic info
The traffic information shown on the Route Planner is live, so you can decide when to leave your home or office.
The Route Planner calculates your routes based on the real average speeds measured on roads. This will always provide you with the smartest route hour-by-hour, day-by-day, saving you time, money and fuel.
Most accurate map
The map is refreshed every day thanks to our Map ShareTM technology. This means that new changes on the roads spotted by members of the TomTom map community are taken into account when calculating your route.
Short haul, TomTom’s online presence is of little threat to Google Maps. Google maps generates most of its visits through search but as the world moves to mobile all bets are off. Currently, Google will theoretically benefit from improvements in the quality of the data. But given that TomTom controls the underlying technology and data and can bring it to the market more quickly, it is conceivable that their mapping product could have technical and real advantages over Google Maps going forward. This advantage could lead to market share gains on the web and as mobile mapping increases in popularity that could stress Google’s and TomTom’s relationship.
Going forward there promises to be some powerful competitors in the web/mobile maps arena. It will no longer be just Google, Mapquest & Yahoo battling it out as Nokia and TomTom enter the market in new, well financed and different ways. It will be interesting to see if Google, without owning the underlying data, can continue to maintain its rising leadership role in Maps going (far) forward.