Last week, Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice president of engineering, made a blog post announcing 100 million users a month for Google Maps for Mobile. In a fragmented, emergent mobile world, mapping is one area where there is a dominant leader. (Note that Gundotra’s post also includes a nifty little graph of Google Maps for Mobile’s evolution over the past five years.)
Hiding behind the mapping front end is Google’s frontal assault into the local search and small-business advertising market. The functionality Google Maps provides on a mobile device is truly amazing, compared with what you could do two years ago. In one week last week, I used Google Maps on my iPhone to:
– Find a way around a traffic jam driving into D.C.
– Find a pharmacy to battle my summer cold in NY.
– Find a hiking trail in western VA.
– Find a nearby bike store to get my wife’s bike fixed.
– Find the fastest subway route across NYC.
Not to mention, our company is currently working with the (very easy to use) Google Maps API to integrate mapping/GPS into two client apps in development. Virtually every client map integration we do is based on Google Maps.
Assuming I’m a somewhat typical user, the Google Maps business model is working — I use the maps’ free functionality almost daily, but some small percentage of those uses are revenue generators — certainly a search for a bike store and a pharmacy qualify as such. As I become accustomed to using Google Maps to find almost anything in the real world, searching for local businesses becomes part of that mix. Now extrapolate that out three to four years to a world where Gartner says half of all all U.S. Web usage will be from a mobile device.
All the while, Google is adding capabilities for SMBs to interact directly with Google — Place Pages follow the age old Google model of providing a very good service for free (in this case free business listings for SMBs), and then finding clever ways to generate revenues from premium services. And as with everything Google, the service is platform-agnostic, accessible via anywhere via a mobile browser at m.google.com/maps or via native apps for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and other devices.
It seems, at least in these early innings of the great mobile wave, that Google has successfully been able to transition from Web search to mobile search by focusing on the one cornerstone of mobile: maps/location. Competition will surely intensify, especially on non-Android devices, as the other major players wake up to the new reality. But for now, Google has been able to do what AOL couldn’t do in broadband and Yahoo couldn’t do in search — successfully navigate to the next gen platform.
Tobias Dengel is CEO of WillowTree Apps Inc., a mobile applications developer. He is also BIA/Kelsey’s new technical editor and will be posting regularly on mobile-related topics. The views he expresses are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of BIA/Kelsey.