Can the automotive industry rescue Google Maps?

Losing Apple's mobile platform can't be good for Google Maps. But there's a whole giant industry for Maps to move in to.

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Google isn't saying much about how it's going to rescue its mapping product from the expected upset of losing the Apple deal . We're going to learn exactly what it's doing tomorrow at a press event that I'll be live-blogging. (Join us Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PT.)

All Google has said so far is:

Brian McClendon, VP of GoogleMaps and Google Earth, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at GoogleMaps and share our vision. We'll also demo some of the newest technology and provide a sneak peek at upcoming features that will help people get where they want to go -- both physically and virtually. We hope to see you there.

Judging from the invitation, I expect the thrust of the announcement to be a new, all-3D version of Google Maps that makes it more seamless to move from Google Earth's views, to the currently-flat (except for buildings) Maps, to Street View. But I am hoping for more.

Invitation to Google Maps event. Google

Now, If Google does nothing more than improve Maps on the Web and on Android devices, it can still make a big difference. On Android, Google still offers features Apple does not, like real-time, traffic-aware navigation, and a map view that's zoomable down to the street view level. Apple is likely to add competitive services, but Google's got a big head start.

Google has also rolled out maps of the insides of buildings . (That, by the way, is a nice potential revenue stream for the advertising team.)

Google can do more to make up for losing Apple's iPhone users. And keep in mind, it's not just losing end users, its losing data that they provide: the real-time location and speed information that makes traffic data work.

One of Google's strengths, something Apple doesn't have (but Microsoft does) is its ability to work well with other vendors and partners. Android may be a hot mess of fragmented handsets and multiple versions, but the operating system is everywhere because anyone in the mobile business can freely adopt it and screw it up to their heart's content.

The same thing is likely to happen in cars. Apple can't provide a built-in iOS or iMaps (I just made that up) experience in cars, since it demands too much control that auto makers are unlikely to grant.

But Google can. In fact, it already is. Check out the Audi A7 for a preview of what Google would like other car manufacturers to bring out: a fully-integrated Google Maps experience in the car, as well as data from elsewhere on the Web for landmarks: pictures, wiki entries, and so forth.

Google claims that more than 20 car manufacturers can now accept Google Maps destinations that users send from their PCs or mobiles. Apple doesn't offer that. Will it?

Cars are the next green field for technology platform makers to win over. Google's doing it, and we can expect to see more Android-powered subsystems in cars. Microsoft is too. Apple, at least the old, we-have-to-control-the-experience Apple, cannot. (Although in a small number of cases, as with the Mini Connected system, Apple has had success as the primary mobile platform for a marque .)

So for Google Maps, I'm looking for more integration between desktops, mobile devices, and cars; more of a seamless experience: Build a route anywhere, and see it in the car; and more data services, like Google's Zagat guides , appearing in cars. Any car manufacturer can do it. I bet many will. Plus, the more that do, the more data Google gets from these cars about traffic.

Google might also be looking at improving on its own location-finding technology. If it is, I'd suggest it check out the work former Googler Sam Liang is doing over at his startup, Alohar .

 

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