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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Amazon Maps?

Amazon.com acquires a mapping service.

  • July 6, 2012

You thought your worldview was secure, with your addiction to Google Maps. Then you were willing to reconsider, when you heard about how awesome Apple Maps would be. But now you may have to prepare for an outright cartographic battle royale, with Amazon now stepping into the fray.

GigaOm reports that Amazon closed a deal to acquire the New York-based 3D mapping startup UpNext. Since the Kindle Fire doesn’t have a dedicated, native mapping app, the acquisition might point to an era of a beefed-up Kindle Fire, or even that Kindle smart phone there’s been speculation about. The UpNext team will reportedly move to Seattle to lead Amazon’s expedition into the world of mapping.

UpNext offers cool, dynamic ways of interacting with 3-D maps of 50 U.S. cities (with 23 of those cities covered with additional details). You can zoom in, spin, tap onto specific buildings, and more. This video gives an impression.

And this one gives more of a step-by-step guide of how the app is used.

Miriam Gottfried over at the Journal has some interesting speculation: that perhaps a mapping app would be particular helpful as Amazon beefs up its local commerce strategy. Amazon, points out Gottfried, like many tech giants, is “trying to become a platform for local promotions targeted at specific consumers using data about their shopping habits.” A mapping app could be integrated with area-specific promotions, Gottfried writes. (Consider how those new Apple Maps are supposedly going to integrate with Yelp.)

Intriguing speculation, but my own feeling is that Amazon has acquired UpNext for the more obvious reason of simply wanting its own mapping service to make it, and its devices, more worthy competitors to Apple, Google, and their devices. It’s probably as Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, told CIO Today: “The most likely bet is that this acquisition and any related development efforts are directed at offering proprietary mapping and potentially navigation services on future Kindle devices, which may include a smartphone.” Sterling added not to be surprised if Amazon should acquire other mapping companies soon.

And of course, there’s the simplest reason of all: money. I spend a lot of time in my mapping app on my iPhone; odds are you do, too. That eyeball time is valuable to Google, as well as to the many businesses that pay Google to promote their businesses through its maps. In short, there are host of reasons why Amazon Maps could add value to the company, and it’s almost surprising that this hasn’t happened sooner.

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