To repeat a phrase we’ve used a number of times in this blog; we live in interesting times. The geo mobile market is hotting up . Google, and ESRI are actively extending their already impressive geo product offerings. Apple, and Amazon are now adding maps to their mix. Venture capital money is pouring into the location based services (LBS) sector. That means more innovation and a greater selection of geo-focused location apps.

Let’s spend a moment tracing the history of the geo-sector over the last 15 years. ESRI historically dominated the sector. Focused on desktop maps and GIS, they provided sophisticated geospatial software. In the late 90’s they began to gently migrate from the desktop to the Web with the release of the Internet Map Server or IMS range of products. These included ArcObjects IMS, ArcView IMS and ArcIMS. MapQuest was also a popular launch in the late 90’s. Then in 2005, Google out of the blue released Google maps. This launch shook the geospatial market to its core. Suddenly large quantities of geo-data were made available for free. And developers were provided with tools, or API’s, to start building their own Web based mapping applications. Others jumped in including Microsoft. But Google had taken the geospatial world by the scruff of the neck.

ESRI reacted quickly, and with ArcGIS closed some of the gap. Though it is worth noting ESRI have always been a GIS focused company with its core client base in the public sector. While Google have never claimed to be a GIS company, increasingly much of their product mix overlaps with traditional GIS. We’ve called elements of their product mix GIS-lite in our blog.

Enter smartphones and tablets. Initially led by Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Google were quick to release Android. New well-funded start-ups appeared, looking to provide consumer focused marketing mobile apps, which attempted to influence buyer’s behaviour at the location of a potential purchase. Foursquare is a notable example. Wars began between mobile hardware and platform providers respectively; Apple versus Adobe over Flash player, iOS versus Android. As during the early days of the Internet, consumers have been quicker adopters of mobile technology than the business sector.

As the mobile revolution moves through its growing pains, its increasing popularity will have a huge impact on the geo-focused technology sector. Mobility and, through GPS, users current location will make location-focused technology a part of many if not all mobile apps. More and more we read about mobile location-technology solutions. ESRI have just released ArcGIS Online which, though not exclusively for mobile, will make publishing and mobile access to location based data considerably easier. Google have announced the imminent release of technology to allow mobile access to offline map and location data. In June 2012 Apple announced the launch of Apple Maps. Amazon recently disclosed it had acquired UpNext for an undisclosed sum.

It will be interesting to see how these so called ‘map wars’ play out. Google are now releasing products which move them closer to traditional GIS. Their products sit between the consumer and business focused worlds. ESRI have not repeated their mistakes of the mid-2000’s when they were surprised by Google. With ArcGIS Online they have a very impressive platform ideal for mobile. Apple will replace Google Maps with Apple Maps. Clearly a competitive move to both attract users to iOS, and away from Android. And allow Apple to enter the consumer focused location based services (LBS) sector. The potential entry of Amazon and continued growth of the location based services sector, further thicken the plot.

The geo-sector was always a niche. The Internet and launch of Google maps helped increasing the general awareness of the usefulness of maps and location. The mobile revolution will move the location-based sector to front and centre. Location technology will be integrated into most mobile apps. Providers of mobile location solutions will need to gear up.

Interesting and exciting times indeed.

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