Can New Google Maps Make Money?

GoogleLogoGoogle Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has updated its Google Maps product, which is among the most popular products the company distributes. The problem with Google Maps is that, like Android and several other important Google products, there seems to be no path to creating a stream of revenue. Google, therefore, continues down the one track that Wall Street worries about when it looks at the search company - it is a one revenue stream operation that relies entirely on search ad revenue.

As Google released the new product, management noted:

What if we told you that during your lifetime, Google could create millions of custom maps … each one just for you?

In the past, such a notion would have been unbelievable: a map was just a map, and you got the same one for New York City, whether you were searching for the Empire State Building or the coffee shop down the street. What if, instead, you had a map that's unique to you, always adapting to the task you want to perform right this minute?

This is what you will have with the introduction of the new Google Maps - a mapping experience that helps you find places you never would have thought to search for.

In a world in which the paper map has been banished and GPS devices work on consumer electronics products as small as smartphones, the presence of well-developed online location and map services is nearly ubiquitous. Among the most powerful competition to Google's product are Mapquest from AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL) and Microsoft Corp.'s (NASDAQ: MSFT) free maps product. Although Apple Inc.'s (NASDAQ: AAPL) first run at online maps failed, the product will get an upgrade and probably will be launched ahead of the new iPhone and iPad. This Apple product certainly will be loaded on these, providing distribution in the tens of millions within months.

Without question, the new Google Maps product is extraordinary. The product can be personalized to allow people to have individual maps to the locations they visit most often, the locations of retailers and settings for "Home" and "Work" activity. However, there is no e-commerce or ad system attached to these features.

Even the old version of Google Maps is impressive, as Apple found out when it released an inferior product. The Google product includes satellite views and the ability to get nearly instant road and traffic conditions. Maps is so powerful that, when loaded on a tablet or smartphone, it negates the need for a high-end GPS product altogether.

Among the theories about why Google has pressed so hard into the map business is that it will help drive the adoption of Android, the most widely used mobile operating system in the world. This may help Google's access to the mobile world. However, Android is a free product as well. Google has to gamble that all these features will let it rule the mobile world, and that it can then can press its ad products onto mobile users as well. Maybe. However, that is a lot of steps, and a lot of R&D and engineering investment, to build a revenue bridge Google has not built, even a little, so far.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Software Tagged: AAPL, AOL, GOOG, MSFT
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