Mapquest ‘Opens Up’, Pulls a Google

Google is out in the media discussing and contrasting its “openness” vs. Apple’s proprietary approach in the mobile arena. Google is open, Apple is closed so the narrative goes.

However now, in one way of looking at it, Mapquest is playing the role of Google to Google’s Apple — in maps. According to the Wall Street Journal, the AOL company plans to introduce a new UK site based on OpenStreetMap. AOL is also investing a million dollars in a fund that supports the OpenStreetMap initiative.

The new UK site “will live alongside MapQuest’s existing UK platform” according to the company. The UK URL is open.mapquest.co.uk. However the maps available aren’t limited to the UK, you can plug in any location and get a map. Here are maps, for example, for Paris and San Francisco:

This is what the recently redesigned Mapquest looks like by comparison, not terribly different from the images above:

When I spoke to Mapquest GM Christian Dwyer last week I was told the company was shuttering Mapquest local, which was highly innovative and presented as a local platform for third party content. This new OpenStreetMap strategy could be the return of that platform approach, layering third party and UGC content on the map.

Google of course has layers of content on its maps as well (more so in Earth than on Maps proper). It also has acquired a considerable amount of UGC at this point. But Google Maps is much more aligned in my mind with Apple’s product approach (controlled, integrated) — just think about Street View for example — than something truly “open.”

That’s not a bad thing by any means; Google Maps has been a great success story. But there’s just something ironic there for me.

More recently Microsoft has begun to enable third parties to distribute their content on Bing Maps through “map apps.” This is a version of the platform approach I’m advocating as part of a new “open” Mapquest strategy.

Resources, commitment and execution are key variables. I don’t think that the folks at Mapquest would disagree with me.

If Mapquest is going to compete with this new crowd-sourcing and content distribution approach, which I’m supporting, it will really need to “go for it” and make the product clearly different or more feature rich than competitors. Such an aggressive new approach does risk alienating some Mapquest users perhaps.

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Separately Mapquest just this week upgraded its free iOS app, adding the following feature enhancements:

  • Spoken Street Names keeps concentration on the task at hand while providing the most critical information needed in an easy-to-understand medium: the street name of where to turn, spoken in a friendly voice (e.g. ‘Turn Left on York Street.’).
  • Auto Re-Route eases the stress of a missed turn, by automatically recalculating the way to the destination.  In other words, no interaction with the device is necessary.
  • Compatibility with iOS 4 allows MapQuest 4 Mobile iPhone to organize the myriad of purposes afforded by fast application switching and background GPS (via iOS 4) by continuing Voice Guidance  & Spoken Street Names whether on a call, listening to iPod, or saving battery with the application hidden.

Turn-by-turn directions and related POI data on maps are available for free, of course, from Google Navigation and Nokia’s Ovi Maps.

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No Responses to “Mapquest ‘Opens Up’, Pulls a Google”

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    [...] is continuing down its new “open” path with OpenStreetMap. Previously the AOL company announced an investment in the open-source mapping community and the creation of “Mapquest Open” a parallel, [...]

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