Where are Maps going?

At the 2015 WWDC Apple stated that it receives 5 billion requests per week for its maps service. It also said that Apple maps is used 3.5 times more frequently than “the next leading maps app.”

These two data points are the total number of data points we have about the global maps market. Neither Google nor Nokia provide usage or share or performance data. Regardless, commentary on the usage, share and performance of Apple Maps has been abundant for the three years since its inception.

The data presented allows us to make a few estimates for the first time and we can hope that additional data can allow a picture to emerge of where maps are going.

With these first two data points we can finally make some estimates. But some assumptions are still needed: We need to assume that the “next leading maps app” is Google Maps. Although there are other maps apps on the iOS platform they are probably insignificant and it’s a two-horse race between Google and Apple on iOS.

This means that the 3.5:1 split in usage results in a 78% share for Apple Maps and a 22% share for Google. If we assume that there are about 400 million iOS users of maps1, it leads to about 90 million Google Maps users on iOS and about 310 million Apple Maps users on iOS.  This includes iPad.2

Given that Google also reported 1 billion downloads in 20143 we can assume between 25% to 33% Apple Maps “market share” of usage.

At the minimum, 25% share is not insignificant and it’s easily sustainable. To understand why, we should note that there is one more data point. In December 2012 I posted an analysis on the the cost of maps. It showed that maintaining maps requires an investment of between $1 billion and $2 billion/yr. With the addition of new features such as 3-D mapping, transit maps and thousands of new cities, the cost is likely to have increased. $2 billion/yr is probably the norm today.

Apple then could be seen as spending about $6.5/user/yr on maps and Google could be spending about $2/user/yr. To be profitable Google would need to find ad revenues of $2/user/yr and Apple would need to find $6 of profit on each phone/yr. Clearly, each of these targets is achievable.

In contrast we can see why Nokia’s HERE Maps business is now worth a lot less than it was in 2007. The asset has been for sale for some time and the latest bid  has been for $3 billion, making the $5 billion lost in market value and $7 billion of investment since seem like a catastrophe. Without a business model the data is worthless–with only 30 million users the cost per user reaches $66/yr. A buyer needs to find an appropriate model for sustaining a $2 billion/yr burn rate.

So the question of where maps are going depends on the business model for maps. In a world where maps are sustained by device value, 300 million users makes it sustainable. In a world where maps are sustained by advertising, 1 billion users makes it sustainable. What else is there?

How about a world where maps are sustained by transportation services?

Uber’s and other auto makers’ interest in HERE shows a third business model. Accurate maps are a key to making vehicles autonomous. More so even than the value of the algorithms, precise imaging of roadways enables vehicle autonomy and the value of location gathering systems should grow to meet that future.

It’s highly likely that Google’s maps efforts are going to continue because they are fueled by a business model. That is also true for Apple’s maps efforts, though they are fueled by an entirely different business model. Each of these business models fuels the improvement of the maps product but also of the maps gathering process. As these processes are expensive and licensing options are few there is little incentive to share the data. As a result the processes remain integral to the businesses.

This integrated-while-fueled nature means that maps makers will find it compelling to pursue adjacent business models, i.e. transportation services. It’s not a matter of whether they will or won’t. It’s only a matter of when and where.

  1. Note that not all iOS users are maps users. Maps are not used by all users []
  2. We are excluding OS X use of Maps. []
  3. though not necessarily all of these downloads lead to active use, obviously []