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alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Saturday, October 31st, 2009 04:40 pm

This article by Bill Gurley talks about how Google has disrupted the turn-by-turn navigation market by offering turn-by-turn map data "less than free" with every Android OS copy, now that Google Maps is based entirely on Google's own mapping data.  Not only do they not charge for the map data, but if you use it and their mapping API, they give you ad revenue splits.  This announcement from Google immediately knocked a big chunk off the values of both NavTeq and Tele Atlas, previously the only two sources of turn-by-turn map data.  TomTom's stock dropped 16% after Google's announcement, and Garmin's dropped 21%; between the two of them, they own the majority of the GPS navigation market in the US, particularly after Magellan got bought out.  (I found it surprisingly difficult to find current hard numbers, but it looks like as of the end of 2Q2008, Garmin owned 55% of the US GPS market, with TomTom in second place with 18%.  In Europe, the situation is reversed, with TomTom at 38% of the Eurpoean market and Garmin in second place with 19% as of 2007.)  When you're selling GPS navigation capability based on map data that you're charged a hefty fee for the use of, it's pretty hard to compete with GPS navigation based on map data that you're paid to use.

There's an interesting side effect to all this, too.

Let's recap a little.  Google used to use both NavTeq and Tele Atlas.  But in late July 2007, TomTom bought TeleAtlas, and less than three months later, Nokia bought NavTeq.  That put the writing on the wall for turn-by-turn navigation.  A year later, Google dropped NavTeq, keeping Tele Atlas after a negotiation for looser license terms; and just over two weeks ago now, Google dropped Tele Atlas as well, cut over entirely to its own mapping databases, and made its announcement.

Now, when we moved here, it didn't take us too long to notice that the map data for our neighboorhood was wrong. Streets shown as connecting on the map don't, and the map shows streets that don't exist.  This probably comes from the long-standing practice of commercial mapmakers of introducing deliberate errors into their maps in order to be able to detect and prosecute unauthorized copying.  If you can show in court that a competitor's map faithfully reproduces intentional errors that you have placed in your maps, it makes a strong argument that they simply copied your maps.  Of course, it's bad news for you if you, as a map user, are relying upon that section of the map.

Well, we tried to report the errors on the map.  It took considerable hunting by several different people, one of them a Google employee at the time, to find a place to submit an error report to NavTeq.  I even submitted, along with it, a digitally corrected version of that section of the map.  Not only did NavTeq not correct the error, they never even responded.  More recently — after, I now know, Google dropped NavTeq and began using only Tele Atlas — we noticed that the map had changed, but was still wrong, although the major error had changed — the non-existent connection between Cheshire Circle and Briarcliff Road was gone, but Briarcliff now trailed off to the south instead of running westward.

So, after finding out the news of Google's switchover, I just looked again at the map of our area.  And it's now almost entirely correct.  There's only one error remaining ... and there's a link to report errors, right there on the map.

I'd say this change at Google Maps is going to end up a clear win for mapping users.