MapQuest Reinvented

October 8, 2005

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Redefining the Marketspace
MapQuest has led the online consumer mapping market since the mid-90's and was the first popular website for maps and directions.An outgrowth of the R.R.Donnelley Company, known for its printed maps, MapQuest seems to have been relegated to second fiddle given the advances made by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to their online mapping portals.In fact, in less than a year, the competition among the "big four" is so fierce that it appears with each new feature on Google Maps or MSN MapPoint, MapQuest falls further behind in popularity (Yahoo is still the #1 web portal for local search) if not in actual revenue for advertising dollars and business to business (B2B) installations.

But it may just be that MapQuest is redefining the market to serve another niche and to extend its brand.Austin Klahn, the company's chief technology office, put a slight twist on MapQuest's new positioning, noting that the company's goal is "getting people where they need to go" while making sure that the company is doing "what it needs to do to stay relevant." And that relevance harkens back to an old problem: paper.Most of MapQuest's users (some 47.5 million in August) simply print out the maps."More relevant" to MapQuest clearly means "no more paper" in this realm.Interestingly, earlier this year the company also announced it would be selling printed map books to compete with the likes of Rand McNally.

New Products
On September 29th, MapQuest announced a partnership with TomTom Inc., a Dutch company, whose mapping products have been ported to phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) and in-vehicle navigation systems.One of the unique features of TomTom's products is the perspective view which tilts the map display to show the horizon, in effect creating a view similar to what a driver would see by looking out the windshield (Directions Magazine reviewed the TomTom Navigator in 2003).

According to Klahn, the user interface of the new MapQuest PND (Personal Navigation Device; see image at right) is the unique selling feature.The price point of $699, well below the current competition at about $1000 is also expected to be attractive."It adds a lot of excitement to this space," said Klahn.The space covers both the personal mobile and in-vehicle markets which are growing and will continue to do so as prices drop.Klahn also believes that the ease of use of the MapQuest PND will be a key selling feature.More specific information about the product can be found in the press release.

But MapQuest isn't stopping there.In a deal just announced with Research in Motion (RIM) and Sprint, MapQuest's "Find Me" Version 2 location-based service, developed in conjunction with uLocate will now be offered on the Blackberry 7520.Using a SiRF GPS chipset and running on the Nextel network (TELUS in Canada), maps and directions are now a part of the popular Blackberry features ($3.99 per month).

MapQuest's strategy is to integrate the desktop with personal, portable devices with the ability to send maps to your phone or PDA.The seamless integration is helping MapQuest build brand awareness by capturing customer mindshare: see it on the web; see it on your phone; see it in your vehicle -- one company does it all.It is a move that goes beyond the flash of Google and tries to offer very utilitarian products to the public whose appetite for maps seems to be exploding.

The utilitarian side of MapQuest comes across when Klahn addresses why the MapQuest website seems so far "behind" that of the other map portal players.Part of the reason is that MapQuest, unlike the "new" players must continue to support the machines, operating systems and browsers of its core users.That means supporting a user base with MacOS 9, Internet Explorer 5 and the like.Klahn provided few details but made it clear that enhancements were on the way.He also shares that the company wants to support developers from the formal B2B sector on down to "guys in the garage."

Eventually, the price points for both portable devices and wireless location services will fall, allowing that some products will be commoditized, and MapQuest believes it can position the company to continue its success while its competitors are still building web-based applications.In addition, MapQuest still leads the market in the B2B "store finder" map portal business where its application programming interface is well rooted with over 1500 customers.So, the application reach of MapQuest is extensive and will serve it well in attacking the consumer market from one end, and the business market from the other.

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