Google Maps Is the Best Map App

Chris is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

The GPS is going out of style.  Mapping apps are among the most widely used apps, because they give users real-time travel information.  Now, map apps have evolved to forecast travel times for driving, public transportation, walking, and cycling. 

But giving directions is just the tip of the iceberg.  Here is how top tech giants are competing.

Google

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) reasserted its dominance as the top map app when Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) dropped Apple’s app for Google Maps.  The Wall Street Journal said:

Google demonstrated that it has the lead when it released its new maps app for iPhones.  Faster and more accurate than Apple’s service, Google Maps also has millions of business listings and features like Zagat restaurant reviews and “street views” from the company’s fleet of cameras on wheels.

Google also has a new tool called “Google Now.”  It works like this: a user gives Google access to his calendar, e-mail address, and location.  Google then sends updates to the user.  For example, Google might tell him that traffic is bad, so he should leave early for lunch.  Or the app can tell him that his flight is running late.

Apple

Apple needs to recover from its maps app fiasco.  Luckily, Apple has cash.  When it filed at the end of September 2012, Apple hoarded $57.6 billion in current assets.

Apple could use this extra cash to license data or to acquire another firm.  For example, Apple is in early licensing discussions with FourSquare, which has an incredible amount of local data.  Another option is acquiring GPS manufacturer TomTom.  The Wall Street Journal says:

The mapping technology firm already powers Apple’s maps app.  In 2008 it added Tele Atlas, one of only two companies at the time with navigable digital maps, via a $4.5 billion merger.

Facebook

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) controls a storehouse of personal data, and it utilized this information in its new mobile discovery tool.  For example, as users travel around a city, they can see what restaurants and other businesses their friends like.  In effect, the discovery tool acts like a personal referral.

Facebook’s information on millions of businesses could be one way that it becomes more relevant for its mobile users. With a simple integrated app, Facebook can turn itself into a personal referral system for local businesses, then provide walking or driving directions to those locales.

Groupon

One firm that would do well with new mapping technology is Groupon (NASDAQ: GRPN).  Groupon’s core business is blasting its massive e-mail lists with daily deals.  The problem is that these lists can quickly experience “burn out.”  Even more problematic: when customers judge Groupon to be irrelevant because the company does not send specific enough deals.

This is an issue from a competitive standpoint.  Large banks with credit card units are buying daily deal sites.  JPMorgan, for instance, bought daily deal site Bloomspot for $35 million.  The plan is to integrate JPMorgan’s massive credit card data into Bloomspot’s e-mail lists – and presto – the e-mails become more relevant.

To compete, Groupon can take two actions.  First, it can do the same exact thing: get its hands on detailed customer purchase data to personalize its lists.  Second, it can use an app to look at a user’s location and calendar schedule to send location-specific offers to users before or as they approach a business.  To be a relevant business, Groupon needs to continue to innovate.

Research in Motion

I have no doubt about it – Research in Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY) could create a top map app.  The problem is that it doesn’t matter.  Because few people will buy RIMM’s new phones.  I wrote about this subject in “BlackBerry 10 is Doomed.”

Of all international phone sales to end users in Q3 2012, RIM sold just 2.1%.  That is an abysmal number for a company that once ruled the smartphone market.  RIM’s Swedish design team, The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), will design two beautiful phones.  And its engineers could create a nice mapping app. 

But it doesn’t matter.  RIM missed the bus.

Final analysis

First, I must say that I did not include Nokia in the discussion.  Nokia has very good mapping capabilities, but I focused on different players.  That said, Google is the clear winner to take maps to the next level.  Google owns the engineering prowess and forward-thinking ability to continue to create products that users will grow to love.  Moreover, it has the necessary cash to back up any big plans.

I do believe that Apple will create a superb map app.  And Facebook and Groupon can earn profits by relying on new technology.  But for now, the day belongs to Google.

 

 


ChrisMarasco has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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