Map for That

Google to Competitors: We’re Really, Really Good at Making Maps

Google gets defensive as rumors circulate that Apple is going to stop using its maps.
4851579413 c8396ed5f03 Google to Competitors: We’re Really, Really Good at Making Maps

(Map: flickr.com/natalee929)

In the most recent installment of Apple vs. Google, Apple is expected to announce its own 3D mapping technology at its Worldwide Developer Conference next week—software which will likely replace Google Maps on iPhones and iPads by the end of the year. Yet in a San Francisco press conference yesterday, Google proved itself determined not to go down without a fight.

Including no major news announcements, yesterday’s event was apparently aimed at reminding customers and, moreover, competitors, that its mapping service is advanced, expensive to produce, and hard to match. Brian McClendon, a VP of engineering, said he was “very proud of Google Maps services” and presented a list of its advantages. Did you know Google has been working on its mapping technology for eight years? Or that its maps currently span 187 countries? Or that, unlike certain other companies that shant be named, Google has its own airplanes?

Google also introduced some new features, including offline maps that will be available to mobile users (a remaining incentive to choose Android over iPhone) as well as improved 3D maps. The company announced “Street View Trekker,” a backpack-based system that will allow Google to map on foot locations such as the Grand Canyon, and “Tour Guide,” a 3D service that will provide 3D images of entire metropolitan areas.

While Mr. McClendon declined to directly address Apple’s mapping developments, the press conference seems largely intended to discourage direct competitors–and perhaps, as many have concluded, to pressure Apple to continue offering Google maps on its mobile products.

Apple’s recent map-related acquisitions—including Poly9, a 3D map of the earth, C3, which shows city street views in 3D, and Placebase, which integrates third party data like restaurant ratings into online maps—have prompted reports that Apple will be pushing its own maps to iPhones in its next OS update, planned for later this year.

Though Google currently dominates online maps, the company has come under increasing pressure from competitors since changing the terms of service on its mapping software last fall—a change that limits the use of Google Maps by commercial websites and raised prices for developers who integrate Google Maps into their websites.

In February, the location-based social network Foursquare announced that it would be moving from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap, a collaborative map service created and managed primarily by contributions from users—much like Wikipedia. Services like Flickr have also incorporated the software, and even Apple has made use of OpenStreetMap’s data for photos with embedded geolocation tags.

It remains to be seen how Google and its new map service competitors will fare in a changing market, but in the meantime, stay tuned for this: Google has yet to announce which cities we will soon be able to view in full 3D.