Globally there are arguably four main digital mapping competitors: Google, Apple, Microsoft and Nokia. Google is the clear leader. However Nokia is making a renewed bid to challenge Google’s mapping supremacy with a rebranded platform “Here,” new APIs, a Google Street View-like offering, augmented reality and new apps for third party smartphone operating systems.
Apple is busy trying to fix its recently launched maps and seems to be making some progress. Bing, after aggressively investing in maps for several years, now seems to be outsourcing key parts of its mapping infrastructure to Nokia, which is also behind Yahoo Maps and Yandex Maps.
But what about Mapquest? There’s still a brand there and considerable usage.
Indeed, until just a couple of years ago, Mapquest was the mapping leader. But years of underinvestment allowed Google to outmaneuver the older site and never look back. Since then Mapquest has redesigned and introduced new features seeking attention and usage. However none of these things have really moved the needle (see, e.g., MQ Vibe).
Its latest effort is called Mapquest Discover, a new social travel planning tool that leverages the company’s data and mapping platform. It offers a visually rich UI and a number of social features. However it will ultimately do very little to make the AOL mapping property competitive again with Google. It also won’t really compete with established travel sites.
There’s more novelty than actual utility in the product.
Modeled to some degree on Pinterest, Mapquest Discover emphasizes imagery from various places and vacation destinations. Users can create profiles that include collections of places they like or have been. They can also add other peoples’ collections to their profiles. And they can of course follow one another.
As visually striking as it is, Mapquest Discover is not a very useful planning tool — though it might be fun and “inspiring” to some people. If people engage with the site and create content, it could become more useful over time. However right now the content on Mapquest Discover is pretty superficial and thin.
The new Nokia mapping platform, “Here,” is a much more comprehensive and serious effort. And Nokia will be submitting an iOS mapping app and an SDK for Android developers. (The motivation for doing this is partly to collect additional usage data to improve the quality of the product.) Nokia will also be working on a HTML5 experience for the forthcoming Firefox mobile operating system.
There’s a great deal of horsepower under the hood at Nokia Maps/Here. However the UI and user experience are awkward in several respects. Many people argue Nokia has the best of the mapping sites and platforms. However, I’ve always found it somewhat difficult to use (vs. Google) and clunky. Nokia search is inferior to Google for example.
Consequently unless the UI is cleaned up I don’t think Here will seriously compete with Google Maps or even Apple Maps, though the Nokia data are currently more reliable.
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