Google Maps’ Data Moat

Justin O’Beirne is back with another one of his well-illustrated essays on the state of digital maps. This one is mostly about Google and the power of knowing about buildings:

At some point, Google realized that just as it uses shadings to convey densities of cities, it could also use shadings to convey densities of businesses. And it shipped these copper-colored shadings last year as part its Summer redesign, calling them “Areas of Interest”:


With “Areas of Interest”, Google has a feature that Apple doesn’t have. But it’s unclear if Apple could add this feature to its map in the near future.

The challenge for Apple is that AOIs aren’t collected — they’re created. And Apple appears to be missing the ingredients to create AOIs at the same quality, coverage, and scale as Google.

With Maps in particular, Google has truly learned the value of what Apple has known for quite some time: it pays to own your systems. The data Google has been able to collect for Maps has created staggering competitive advantages for them, and has enabled them to do things none of their competitors are even close to attempting. It makes you wonder why so much of Apple’s mapping efforts are clearly, as O’Beirne illustrates, so dependent on third-party data. It also makes you wonder if anyone can catch Google at their rate of progress.