2013 was an up-and-down roller coaster of a year for the location industry…and 2014 appears to be more of the same. What was the big story? Google buying Waze? While it is easy to predict what will happen, the harder thing to do is to predict when it will happen. With that in mind, LBS Insider reached out to industry veterans to discuss the big buzz in 2013 in the industry — and what the future holds, next year and beyond.
It’s that time of year — to assess the big deals and trends — good, bad and ugly — in the worldwide location industry. Some of the stories seem obvious, such as the Google acquisition of Waze for more than $1 billion.
“The valuation remains a mystery to many in the mapping community, but it is always nice to see a truly great exit in this business. There haven’t been enough for an industry that is both foundational in mobile and online, and really hard to do well,” said Marc Prioleau, president of Prioleau Advisors.
Prioleau says one of the big stories of 2013 was the reemergence of Apple Maps. “For all the flak they took, they’ve worked hard to make them better. Their default position in iOS has given them traffic, as has the extension to OSX in the Maverick’s release,” he said. “Last year you saw Apple start to buy companies that could extend the features (like HopStop), a sign that they think they’ve fixed the major problems and are working on moving forward. They are also hiring aggressively and have brought in some very good people.”
Last year, Prioleau predicted that the combination of data with location to derive better location-based context would be a big thing. “I think a lot has happened in that area with much more to come. It’s happening in apps (see Foursquare recommendations), advertising (PlaceIQ and others), CRM (SAP Precision retailing as an example),” he said. “There is a lot more to come here, and we should expect many new applications, most of which will do things badly, but some — likely the ones with the most targeted data — will do things that really change the model.”
Prioleau says MapBox is making mapping cool again (and Prioleau is a director at the company). “Just when all was going to be subsumed by the Google Maps juggernaut, MapBox is doing new interesting data visualization work,” he said.
Crowdsourcing being embraced by the wider mapping community is another big trend Prioleau has identified. “Everyone knows about OSm, but then you add Waze for crowdsourcing real-time traffic plus map corrections. Google is in deep with MapMaker, and even Nokia is pushing crowdsourced input,” he said. “It’s no longer the battle between crowdsourced maps and professional maps. It’s how to make the two work together.”
Prioleau sees the location industry having a few benchmarks in 2014. “I’ll stick with the same prediction as last year: Data + location for better location context. Google Now is a great benchmark,” he said. “Break out in location-based ad targeting. The technology is better, and the providers really understand the advertising market now. Complementary ad technologies like Real Time Bidding are maturing, and these will fit in to a model that really works. And if for no other reason, if we keep predicting it, it will be right one year, right?”
Prioleau believes Google Map domination will begin to show cracks. “Google has a great platform, but as they monetize it more aggressively, more companies will look for alternatives,” he said. “Apple maps will be one. HERE will be another. But solutions from MapBox and others will grow as well.”
In terms of connected car and other automotive technology, Prioleau says new and interesting applications will come from local search, driver services, and diagnostics — rather than just basic navigation.
Another industry insider, Mike Dobson, president of TeleMapis, said 2013 was a quiet year for location-based services. “Even the biggest deal, Google’s acquisition of Waze, does not look as if it will have much impact, other than as a defensive strategy. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the year was the stream of patents covering LBS and GIS-like applications from both Apple and Google, not to mention those of several start-ups,” he said.
From his perspective, Dobson said 2013 was yet another year in waiting, but 2014 looks like it might actually be exciting. “It appears that Google will finally make its move into the in-car navigation market. Apple is beginning to play with the idea of allowing its users access to a more GIS-like parsing of its map database,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest change will be a new focus on thematic maps that aim not to be navigation aids, but to perform the function of information devices for travelers and others using directed search technology. I suspect that 2014 will be another slow year for indoor positioning, but maybe it will flourish as a subset of BIM.”
Indoor Mapping Still Considered Trend for Location Industry
While many in the location industry have seen new companies and products coming to the indoor positioning market, at least one analyst says that Wi-Fi positioning has been weak.
“The biggest trend in 2013 was indoor mapping, the beginning of the hockey stick adoption curve in my opinion. Major retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, etc., launched indoor maps with product search/locator,” said industry veteran Kris Kolodziej. “What was overblown was indoor Wi-Fi positioning. The latency and accuracy is not good enough for micro location. It’s good enough to know what store/venue you’re in, but that’s about it.”
Kolodziej said that the big deal in 2014 will be ibeacons or Bluetooth low energy (BLE) for micro location and proximity services. “BLE solves the many shortcomings Wi-Fi has,” he said.
Prioleau says that in-door location will be big, but it is where outdoor location was in the early 1990s: many technologies and technology providers all pushing different solutions — and most will not succeed.
“Beyond the location technology, the market needs to figure out how the money will flow from beneficiaries of the market (retailers, brands) to the providers of indoor location technology (mostly semiconductor companies and tech companies). There is no natural connection,” he said.