The newest from Google is it is introducing 3D maps to its standard offering. The connotation here is that the demo will be less than a week before WWDC2012 event at which Apple is expected to introduce its own map app, complete with 3D capabilities, as part of its next generation mobile software, iOS 6. The other piece of the puzzle is that Google is making moves to monetize its services on all fronts, so making the value proposition for its unique offerings is crucial.
Google, and in fact all of the big internet companies, are at a crossroads. As Facebook’s recent buzz has shown counting on advertising as the sole means of monetizing these massive services is not a good idea. The growth of Google’s own text advertising business is slowing and it is unclear how much display and mobile ad revenues will bring in.
Tim Worstall from Forbes has written in these pages about how Google makes more from licensing its software to Apple for use in the iPhone than it does directly from Android. This, of course, will change if Apple replaces Google maps with its own offering. But beyond Apple, Google has begun to charge developers for API access to Google Maps data, which so far has been free for all but the biggest customers, like Apple.
Google has just launched a developer portal for the Google Maps API that is, according to the company, is projected to “inspire the next wave of innovation on the Google Maps API, and to connect developers and decision makers with the tools and services that can make their products better.” The portal is a great place to see some of the really interesting ways that companies are making use of the map data, including 3D applications.
These moves are in concert with the addition of “Knowledge Graph” summary boxes for many popular searches and enhancements to the display of shopping, travel and restaurant information. All in all, Google is making their data more consumable, more easily, in more ways. The fact that they want to start charging for aspects of their services that have previously been free could actually be a good thing for consumers. Google spokesman Sean Carlson told the New York Times that the pricing “is intended to encourage responsible use” of Maps data and “secure its long-term future.” The rationale is that people, and companies, use resources more efficiently if they pay for them.