I remember when Google Maps was just a baby. Google launched Maps in 2005. It wasn’t the first digital mapping product by any means. But with its then-novel ability to drag the map without reloading, it quickly came to define dynamic mapping and continues to be the dominant mapping property today.
(Re/Code has a good story about the personalities behind the original Google Maps.)
Both AOL’s Mapquest and Yahoo Maps preceded Google Maps, which was briefly called “Google Local” (I still have the t-shirt). Yahoo’s product was the first true “local search” tool utilizing maps. Yet given Google’s prominence in web search, Google Maps novel features and the company’s increasing investment in the product it was able to overtake both and never look back.
It’s hard to determine but also hard to overestimate the role that Maps has played in Google’s success. To Google’s enormous credit and to the surprise of most cynics, Google continued to develop Maps without fully exploiting its “monetization potential.” The years-long, multi-billion dollar investment Google has made in Maps, Navigation and Street View is also what scared Marissa Mayer away from pursuing local when she took over at Yahoo.
Google has five to seven enormously successful products:
- Chrome (and Chrome OS)
- GMail (and Calendar)
While Maps doesn’t make much money directly for Google it has been instrumental in the long-term success of search and mobile/Android. Google couldn’t have known in 2005 how critical Maps would be in its later mobile efforts. Google Navigation, launched in 2009, essentially killed the stand-alone PND (e.g., Garmin) market.
Until Apple Maps launched in 2012 it appeared that Google Maps would have no serious rivals. But Apple Maps and others such as OpenStreetMap have helped diversify digital mapping and have created an opening for other companies to develop some new user experiences (e.g., Recce).
Unlike Mapquest in its prime, which became complacent, Google recognizes the importance of its mapping product and will continue to invest in it. But we’re now in a place analogous in some ways to where we were when Google Maps first launched in 2005. There’s a standard UI and UX to most mapping experiences online or in mobile. Bing Maps, Here Maps and others follow a very similar approach to Google.
Will we see any new UX/UI innovation representing the kind of compelling change that Google introduced when Maps first launched? Augmented reality, in-car heads up displays, AI, wearables . . . What will maps (and Google Maps) look like in 10 years?
What are your thoughts and can Google Maps remain on top?