Google Maps Turns 10 But What Will Mapping Look Like 10 Years from Now?

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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:

  • Search
  • AdWords
  • YouTube
  • Android
  • Maps
  • 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?

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4 Responses to “Google Maps Turns 10 But What Will Mapping Look Like 10 Years from Now?”

  1. Rene Reinsberg says at

    Hi Greg, surprised you didn’t mention Waze here. I see them play a big part in the future of Google Maps.

  2. Neal Thomas says at

    I briefly got rid of my iPhone when the Google Map app was removed and AppleMaps was in it’s place. That first iteration was a disaster and thankfully Google Maps came back to iPhone or I’d still be on an Android device. Google’s accuracy with maps is pretty awesome and with their acquisition of Waze crowdsourcing additional info into their maps they seem to be willing to continue to invest and grow the product. 

    Here Maps presents an interesting bonus feature, but I believe Google Maps is adding this too, but in terms of lowering data usage you can download the maps you need so that you aren’t pulling it all over your data line. Google talking about selling wireless service is also interesting and their take over of WiFi hotspots at all the Starbucks makes me think they’ll solve our data usage problems in other ways. I wouldn’t rule Google out of the top contender role as long as they show signs of advancement with the product. 

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes, the Waze data and routing are excellent (mostly). Google has been doing “social mapping” with Mapmaker for a long time. The Waze acquisition was for the real-time traffic data and to keep it out of Facebook’s hands. But yes, significant.

  4. anon e maus says at

    I’m becoming increasingly impatient with Google Maps. The latest version is much slower, on both my laptop and smartphone. It’s also more bloated with information and options irrelevant to my needs, and offers no way to get all the eye clutter out of the way.

    I’m overriding it with https://google.com/lochp for as long as I can and am trying out the other map programs to have my plan b in place for when that link no longer works.

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