Google asks: How much is mapping worth?


FAIRFAX, CA - DECEMBER 13: The Google Maps app is seen on an Apple iPhone 4S on December 13, 2012 in Fairfax, California. (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)
January 30, 2013

How much has mapping software changed your life?

The anecdotal impact is easy to assess. Look no further than the uproar Apple faced after it switched the iPhone’s default mapping program from Google Maps to its own much criticized service.

Or consider the glove compartment. Twenty years ago, that catch-all space under the dashboard was home to road maps, TripTiks and — probably — a magnifying glass. Today, you’re more likely to find a smartphone charger.

But when it comes to fixing an actual value — on the online mapping industry and on the service it provides — it gets much trickier.

Google, which has embarked on an almost zealous mission to map the whole world, said Wednesday that it’s trying to get a handle on how to gauge that value. The company commissioned two studies, one from Boston Consulting Group and one from the European firm Oxera, to look at the geo-services industry in the United States and worldwide.

According to the research, U.S. consumers placed a $37 billion value on mapping services, said Charlie Hale, a Google policy analyst. The American industry, defined as those who work with global positioning satellite systems and mapping, generates $73 billion in yearly revenue and employs half a million workers, Hale said. Worldwide, that number jumps to between $150 billion and $270 billion a year and $90 billion in wages.

Hale said Google wanted to underwrite the studies to take a step back and study how its products and others were changing business and consumer habits.

“There’s been a sea change in technology,” he said. “We’re seeing it as a way to put a flag in the ground and understand what the technology means.”

The studies also ventured into the somewhat fuzzier math of examining the impact of mapping software based on how businesses use it. Hale said that this could include the money that businesses save by using maps and map software to plot ideal driving routes, find new sites for buildings or consult traffic flow to find the best places to put billboards.

All in all, the study found these uses add up to a value of $1.6 trillion. Hale said that Oxera’s study predicts that the industry will see 30 percent growth per year, as consumers rely even more on their smartphones for navigation.

Google commissioned the studies to get a comprehensive snapshot of the landscape, he said, and consider how it should invest in mapping software in the future.

“It helps us make the argument that it’s a growing and important kind of technology,” he said.

The studies, Hale said, also reveal a nice comeback for geography teachers facing questions from students about why they need to know geography: According to the research, students who know how to use geographic data and software on average earn salaries three percent higher than those who don’t.

Related stories:

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Google Fiber provides faster Internet and, cities hope, business growth

Google Maps returns to the iPhone

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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