Last month, taxi service Uber was in the news for making a US$3 billion bid to acquire Nokia’s high-technology mapping unit, HERE. Uber has company. Three German auto manufacturers – BMW, Daimler, and Audi, joined Chinese search engine Baidu to submit a joint indicative bid to get hold of a majority stake in HERE. Though Uber has so far been reliant on mapping technologies developed by Google and the technology giant has been a major investor in Uber through its venture capital investment arm, Google Ventures, the car service provider has evidently been trying to move away from Google maps in the past few months. It has already started working on its own mapping technology in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and recently acquired deCarta, a small mapping software firm.
Equally, Apple is endeavoring to boost its location technology too. To this end, the tech giant recently bought Coherent Navigation, a small firm which develops high-precision navigation systems. Apple’s old mapping application was based on Google Maps, and the technology giant set a precedent in some ways when it smartly reduced its dependence on its arch-rival by releasing its own mapping service in 2012. Since then, Apple has purchased a number of small companies such as HopStop, Placebase, and Locationary to strengthen its own mapping services.
This brings us to the question that’s now being raised across all quarters of the tech industry: Why are more and more companies moving away from Google?
Is HERE better than Google Maps?
The layouts for both the maps are pretty similar but some of the features in HERE make it interesting for users:
- Offline Usage: Many users prefer offline navigation to save battery life or for general convenience. The maps of the entire state/ country/ continent, as well as preferred languages for navigation, can be downloaded onto the phone and used without an internet connection. In Google Maps, navigation functions or route planning are unavailable without an internet connection and it is only possible to save individual map areas in the cache for offline access; these too, are cleared from memory after a month.
- Interior View: HERE offers detailed views of the interior of a building. For example, it offers a separate interior view of a shopping complex, with different levels inside as well as the shops within. Though Google Maps allows zooming in, the interior view function is not clear.
- Speed Limit Warning: HERE maps can warn through visual warning and alarm when the driver exceeds the specified speed limit. Google is yet to come up with speed limit warnings in its maps. HERE offers real-time traffic and transit updates. To keep up with the competition, last week, Google introduced traffic alerts in its maps that estimate delays and provide alternative routing options.
Google and its Driverless Cars: Will Google Maps Restrict Other Players Entering into Driverless Cars Market?
Google has been testing driverless cars for a while and owning Google Maps has helped it in developing the self-driving cars. Rival Apple has also joined the race to develop autonomous cars for the future. With the technology giants in Silicon Valley as well as the major auto manufacturers working on self-driving cars, the demand for new mapping software has reached an unprecedented peak. Understandably, auto companies are wary of depending on maps developed by technology giants as they are turning into potential competitors, and this has created a huge opportunity for HERE. The mapping unit is already used by major players in the automotive industry such as Ford Motor, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, and Renault. Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Amazon have been also using data provided by HERE.
Though Google Maps is being used by more than 1 billion people worldwide and is the default map on Google’s Android mobile operating system, the future certainly looks different with industry players looking out for new mapping software such as HERE. However, it would be early to predict if Google can survive this race or not.