from the location,-location,-location dept
Last year, Google announced that it would begin charging high-volume users for access to its previously free Maps API. It seemed like an odd move. Jacking up the price on something, without actually offering anything new to entice customers to stay, only works if you have a total monopoly—and free competitor OpenStreetMap was already growing rapidly at the time.
Not long after the Google announcement, we reported that property search engine Nestoria was jumping ship to OpenStreetMap. Then, in March, news began to spread that Apple was making a strong push to move away from Google Maps data on the iOS platform. FourSquare also abruptly switched. Now the exodus is continuing, with Wikipedia announcing that the latest versions of its mobile apps for iOS and Android have also ditched Google Maps for OpenStreetMap:
Previous versions of our application used Google Maps for the nearby view. This has now been replaced with OpenStreetMap - an open and free source of Map Data that has been referred to as ‘Wikipedia for Maps.’ This closely aligns with our goal of making knowledge available in a free and open manner to everyone. This also means we no longer have to use proprietary Google APIs in our code, which helps it run on the millions of cheap Android handsets that are purely open source and do not have the proprietary Google applications.
One wonders how Google didn't see this coming—or if they did, what exactly their strategy is here. OpenStreetMap is gaining a lot of momentum, and in some areas even features much better data. The real lesson here is that there's never an incumbent that isn't at risk of being unseated, no matter how widespread the adoption of their product or service—especially if they make an anti-customer decision like Google when it put a price tag on Maps. The situation also points to the long-term strength of open solutions: while a crowdsourced system like OpenStreetMap never could have put together a global mapping product as quickly as Google did, over time it has become a serious competitor in terms of both quality and convenience. Indeed, none of the companies that have switched pointed to the price as their number one reason—potentially superior quality, and the desire to support open data, are generally listed as significant factors. Location-based tools are a rapidly growing field, and by failing to stay ahead of their more open competitors (while becoming less open themselves), Google may have sacrificed their role as a crucial engine driving such services.