Surprise! The path to the mobile future is ... Maps! Who says that? Rolfe Winkler, writing in today's Wall Street Journal (WSJ), says that whoever has the best mobile maps "will be an important driver of shares in tech giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook and help determine who has the dominant mobile platform of the future." In case you missed the article (subscribers only link, see below for other access options) it was somewhat buried on the front page of the "Money and Investing" section.
Be still my fluttering heart. Let's see, tell me if you've heard this before. Eighty percent of all data is referenced by location. Hmm, makes sense then that somebody finally discovered that location-based data can actually be displayed on a map.
Winkler aptly describes the battle over mapping apps as a struggle over the supremecy for "smartphone discovery" tools. He further describes mapping tools as "answering questions that go way beyond location." I couldn't agree more. It is information discovery that has lifted maps to new levels of importance. Just as we in the geospatial community have long known about "layering" data features, the mobile world is discovering just how important maps are to visualizing spatial interaction.
Clearly, each of the tech giants are posturing to provide some very sophisticated services as well as display ads. The article describes Google Now that links your calendar information to the traffic conditions so you can tell if you're going to miss your cross-town meeting. Apple, having been bludgeoned by the Apple Maps fiasco, is apparantly in discussions with Foursquare to integrate more local information into Apple Maps, according to the WSJ article.
So, why are maps all of a sudden the linchpin to the mobile future. Was the Apple Maps debacle that bad? Did it raise the stakes that much in the war for mobile market share? The answer lies in both Apple's and Google's response: People were fired at Apple and the Google Map iPhone app is better than even its Android version. In addition, rumors are still flying about a possible acquisition of TomTom and other location-based services like Yelp or Waze could see their prospects for takeover rise as well.
But let's be clear. It's not the map itself. It's how easy location-based data can be used to discover information about social interaction and mobile services that make everyday tasks easier. But, then again, maps are cool.
- WSJ (subscribers only)
- for non-subscribers: Google the article title "Mobile's Path to Glory" for access