Google Enhances 3D Maps: Is It Enough To Keep Competitors at Bay?

June 12, 2012  - By
Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

Google’s recent announcement that it plans to enhance its 3D maps on the Android platform was seen as a preemptive strike against Apple, which is planning a similar announcement. In other recent news, some analysts and trade press are saying Verizon is paying way too much for Hughes Telematics. All of this is making for an interesting summer for the location industry.


Google recently demonstrated new 3D capability for Google Earth, in a move that some say preempted a similar announcement by Apple, which will roll out its own product at our deadline during the Worldwide Developers Conference.

While Apple is set to announce its own version of a mapping program for iOS that does not use Google Maps, some in the industry are wondering if the 3D capability is enough for developers to stay with Google, particularly with the fees the company is charging high-volume users. The big winner in the Apple announcement was TomTom, which has signed a global agreement with Apple for maps and related information. No further details of the agreement will be provided, the company said.

In terms of upstaging Apple via 3D, one company executive thinks that is overblown. “I don’t think Google was trying to do that directly on just that feature. I think they are very concerned about the Apple announcement — not just because they will lose Apple as a customer, they will, but because they fear a ‘wow’ factor upstaging them despite all the great work [Google] has done to date,” said Kim Fennell, deCarta president and CEO. “Their press conference last week was more about reminding everyone how hard it is to do this stuff really well, and I think they wanted to remind Apple, and the market, it takes a lot do the complete mapping solution really well. I think their Google Earth capabilities with street views and their new 3D modeling is a major investment and they wanted to set the overall bar high for Apple.”

DeCarta says half of its new developers are coming from Google Maps. The company says that, in the last 90 days, 488 new companies have signed up to its developer’s program.

In a white paper, de Carta says:  “The timing of this surge confirms that Google is no longer seen as the ‘Benevolent Provider of Free Stuff’ that it once was. What is more surprising is that not all of the companies jumping ship are big guys…in fact some are not even close to the 25,000/day map threshold that Google uses to trigger the hounds.”

The company contends that there is a common theme that developers want to work within clearly defined partnerships, how much they will need to pay, and whether or not they can execute their business model — especially if that involves advertising. “They want to create some differentiation and most of all, they want to know whether or not their partner will one day decide to compete with them,” the company white paper says. This restriction trickles down to real estate, travel, local search, and other sites, the company says.

Fennell said deCarta started working with Google competitor OpenStreetMap in 2009 when it was early in the market and there were almost no takers.  “We were too early, the market wasn’t really looking for an alternative yet — and the map data quality wasn’t good enough. Three years later, it is looking much more interesting both from supply (map data availability) and demand (customer interest),” he said.

Verizon’s Purchase of Hughes Telematics a Financial Reach?

To strengthen its presence in the machine-to-machine and connected car market, Verizon Communications said it plans to buy Atlanta-based Hughes Telematics Inc. for $612 million, or $12 per share. The high price has some analysts scratching their heads — particularly because Hughes was trading at only $4.35 per share the day the deal was announced.

Hughes Telematics, which competes with OnStar, began to provide LBS, connected safety and convenience services to Mercedes-Benz customers in 2009.

“I was frankly surprised at the valuation considering HTI’s financial position. I assume Verizon sees a lot of value in the Mercedes account and potential value in HTI’s VW account — and at least one other OEM account which they are expected to get,” said Clem Driscoll, president of CJ Driscoll Associates.  “I think it is also clear that Verizon’s plans called for increasing its role in telematics through acquisition of a telematics service provider. A previous attempt at a TSP acquisition was unsuccessful. HTI clearly has some good technology, as evidenced by the Mercedes Mbrace solution.”

Driscoll said that Hughes Telematics’ financial problems probably discouraged some auto OEMs from using them in the past, but those issues should now be resolved.

The Verizon-Hughes Telematics acquisition is expected to close in the third quarter. Verizon plans to retain Hughes Telematics’ management, operate the company as a subsidiary of its Verizon Enterprise Solutions group, and keep the company headquartered in Atlanta.

ITS America Holds Small Annual Meeting — Why?

It isn’t big news that private companies still court government contracts and attend the ITS America Annual meeting in Washington to work on connected vehicle committees. However, this is the first time I’ve covered this conference, and I’ve attended off-and-on since 1993, to notice attendance has reached the point that only a few die-hard private sector companies are going to this government-focused meeting.

Remember, the ITS America meeting was the only game in town in the 1990s and early 2000s, with two of the dominant players at that time, Navteq and Etak (later to be purchased by Tele Atlas) anchoring a growing navigation and location industry.

Instead of ITS America dominating the entire connected vehicle conference market, most private companies choose to attend the pricier Telematics Update Detroit meeting. What made the meeting more disappointing is the fact that ITS America does attempt to focus on the connected vehicle. The U.S. Transportation Department invited delegates and the press to a connected vehicle demonstration with Ford, General Motors, and Toyota, among other team members. The demonstration highlights this summer’s testing of 3,000 vehicles, which will test crash-avoidance technologies in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a year-long government program.

Still, some companies attended such as Inrix, Beat the Traffic, and TomTom. The Virginia Transportation Department is partnering with TomTom to analyze where travelers entered and exited the I-95/I-64 corridor.

Some companies are getting ITS grants, such as Xerox, which grabbed $15 million from the U.S. DOT for a pilot program incorporating real-time parking guidance systems, among other projects. These parking systems, using smartphone apps from Streetline, enable motorists to view spaces based on price, location, and real-time availability.

Simulators Keeping LBS Companies on Target

Spirent Communications, which is monitoring the popularity of LBS, said its new GNSS simulator supports simulation of signals from individual or combined GPS/SBAS, GLONASS, and Galileo constellations, with eight satellites per constellation.

The company, which said it recognizes the increase in LBS’ momentum and the market need for improved positioning performance on mobile devices, has expanded its LBS LTE test product to support an LTE Positioning Protocol and Observed Time Difference of Arrival. The company says both are critical enablers for LBS adoption.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author:

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

1 Comment on "Google Enhances 3D Maps: Is It Enough To Keep Competitors at Bay?"

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  1. Hadji Kediro says:

    GPS World map is a very useful software for me.