Maps, travel search and how the game is changing for the betterNewsBy Viewpoints | October 30, 2012Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a guest article by Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Skobbler.Google Maps. Apple Maps. OpenStreetMap. Sound familiar?No matter what map service or platform we’re talking about, I think now, more than ever, one thing is clear - digital maps and mapping technologies are more important than they’ve ever been.Don’t believe me? Ask Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. He’ll tell you.Maps matter and always have. They matter to vacation goers using an app to find a last-minute hotel reservation nearest to them (for the record, we prefer Airbnb).They also matter to the developer who made the app that allowed you to do that in fine minutes. Maps matter. They’ve always been an essential albeit under-appreciated digital resource.Now, though, we’re just more aware of their value.To some degree, you can credit this to Apple and iOS 6. The rise and fall of Apple Maps made mapping services one of the topic of the year in the digital world.Yet, this emergence has been in-progress for quite some time. Maps were bound to be the world’s focal point. It was inevitable. But why is that, exactly?The rise of location-based appsAccording to a May 2012 report from Pew Internet, nearly 74% of smartphone owners today use real-time location-based information services and 10% use geo-social services like Foursquare or Sonar.These numbers are up significantly from just a year prior. In 2011, Gartner noted that location-based services will reach 1.4 billion users by 2014.Clearly, the use of location-based services is expected to see huge gains each year.However, more importantly, for our purposes, what we must not forget is that every single location-based service, feature, etc., needs a digital map woven into its core. Without mapping data as a foundation, Foursquare, Yelp, Uber—none of them exist.This why maps are a focus today. It’s because they’re a critical resource. They power your favorite location-based service and are the engine in the car.And as more location-based apps and services are created and developed, maps will continue to be central (more LBS also means more location-based dollars for developers, map-makers and the brick-and-mortar businesses that are being featured on the maps).With this in mind, what makes one map different from another?The need for hyperlocal dataAs location-based services grow in their popularity, so, too, does the need for the most accurate and detailed location data. After all, you can’t have a good location-based service without a rich and meticulous mapping platform supporting it in the back-end.The service is only as good as the data, which makes the map’s quality and depth an important, ongoing issue.In fact, as more map services come to the fore, the level of detail and better-quality hyperlocal data will be what separates one map from the next.This is why Google Maps, for instance, recently announced the addition of 25 million new building footprints.It’s also why the OpenStreetMap project is often touted for the richness of its hyperlocal data, enabling developers to incorporate location information beyond just the street level.It’s also why services like Walkbase exist, giving developers remarkable access to indoor positioning data and real-time room-level context.The need for unparalleled breadth and accuracy of location information has grown in tandem with the rise of location-based services. Simply put—the more data, the better.This is why the concept of crowdsourcing has become so successful. From a scalable perspective, there’s simply too much data (a good thing) and no other way to collect and maintain it. You need troops on the ground, as they say, to help with the database-building.That’s why Google and Apple integrate some degree of crowdsourcing into their map offerings. It’s also why the OpenStreetMap has become a go-to platform.This actually brings us to another reason maps are so top-of-mind today—platform diversity.Maps and platform diversity Mapping service diversity has made maps sexy.The emergence of LBS and the related need for hyperlocal data are core to mapping’s pubic ascent. But, as seen with Apple Maps, the reason more and more people are interested in maps is because of the unique competition we’re seeing across the board.With Google, Apple, Bing, OpenStreetMap and other services, end-users and developers are being provided choices.After a static period, the space is being disrupted by newcomers keen to address the location needs of consumers and developers alike. Each service is offering something that the other may not have, as well. When you’re discussing the benefits of diversity and having multiple players in a space—that’s hugeFor the same reason the Android versus iPhone battling is interesting – there’s so much at stake – similar logic applies to the mapping wars of 2012. Location is key to every aspect of our lives and that’s playing out digitally. This makes mapping tech centralThat’s why Apple chose to enter the mapping space. They know what’s at stake (and you can bet they’ll work on getting their map offering right so that it has a say).So, what can we predict about the mapping space moving forward?As the importance of location-based services continues, maps, and the quality of them, will, as well. This is hardly a prediction, though. Logic tells us that this will happenIf this is the case, the real question becomes: in an increasingly crowded landscape, which map wins? Or can there even be a winner?If I had to pick, I would say that the map service that best incorporates accurate and rich hyperlocal data will. That will depend, though, on the service that truly embraces crowdsourcing to handle the challenge.NB: This is a guest article by Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Skobbler.NB2:Paint globe image via Shutterstock.