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Google Maps is key to the future of Google

While it may not garner the same amount of excitement from the general public as Android, Google Glass, or self-driving cars, Maps is arguably the biggest and most important project at Google right now. So what's the next big thing? Read on!
By
December 11, 2013
Google-IO-2013 Google Maps 99 1600 aa

While it may not garner the same amount of excitement from the general public as Android, Google Glass, or self-driving cars, Google Maps is arguably the biggest and most important project at Google right now.

A recent New York Times Magazine article talks about how Google Maps came to be what it is today from its simple beginnings, why it’s so important, and where it might lead to in the future. As many will no doubt remember, Google wasn’t the first company to put maps on the web. MapQuest and Microsoft were already available in 2005 when Google Maps debuted. Google Maps, however, had a more intuitive interface that let users drag, pan, and zoom all around the map instead of moving between small, individual map tiles.

When we started, Street View was just some sci-fi idea
It was the intuitiveness of Google Maps that led Paul Rademacher to create HousingMaps.com using the service as a way to map apartments in San Francisco. After some discussion, Google hired Rademacher and opened Google Maps up to anyone to use for their own projects. This decision helped make Google Maps popular as other companies began to rely on it for their services, and eventually helped Google make some money on the project when it started to attract large numbers of users for the service.

To get its mapping data Google initially relied on third-party companies, but found that much of it was unreliable and contradictory. Street View, which started as a famous “20 percent” project, helped alleviate this problem by making it possible to view local businesses and road signs paired with geolocation data. While Street View is fun and helpful for average users, the service can also help Google. “When we started, Street View was just some sci-fi idea,” Luc Vincent, the man in charge of Google Maps said, “but now, it’s the backbone.”

Google Maps for Android
Street View is also a big part of the future of Google Maps as the team tries to photograph the world, and not just roads in major cities. The NYT story follows the tale of an expedition to photograph the Grand Canyon from the Colorado River as just one example of where the feature will come to next. Eventually, Google may end up photographing most of the land on Earth, though it faces some competition from international mapping clones.

Google’s dominance in mapping, as in mobile devices, is dependent on its ability to stay ahead of its competitors. In mapping, however, Google isn’t the only open source option competing against the closed competitor. Instead it faces competition from the likes of OpenStreetMaps, an open-source alternative which has rules in place to make sure that no one company can take its data without improving the data for everyone. OpenStreetMaps has some big helpers like Microsoft and Telenav, but it remains to be seen if it can stand against Google in its quest to map the planet.  “We want to paint the world,” Vincent said.

Google doesn’t need competition to push it forward, though. Google Maps and Street View help power the software in the company’s fleet of self-driving cars. It can also help with the so-called “Internet of Things” everyone keeps talking about. And, of course, it can help the company generate money with as sales.

Do you think Google Maps has any real competition? Do you want more mapping options? What can they do to improve things further?