"Mapping is a thankless endeavor," says Manjoo, and for the time being it's a largely money-losing endeavor at that. So why are the world's biggest technology companies duking it out to be the first name when it comes to mapping?
"We think there have been three big shifts in what people were asking online," says Hans Peter Brondmo, Nokia's head of new product innovation. "The first was 'what'--Google won that battle. The second question was 'who,' and Facebook won that. The next big question is 'where,' and that's what we're fighting to become, the Where company."
And while it remains unclear exactly how these companies plan to monetize their investment in maps and place-based imagery, Manjoo says that they'll "keep pouring money into cartography because of its inherent, unknowable promise."
"Inevitably, though perhaps not anytime soon, any successful effort to wring big money from mobile devices seems likely to depend on knowing exactly where users are and where they want to go. Mapping requires, and creates, huge troves of user data. The bet is that the data will lead to insights into user behavior that can then be turned in to new products. Or, failing that, to methods for predicting customer actions in order to serve up better ads. 'We think there's a lot of potential,' says Matthew Quinlan, Bing's maps chief, echoing his peers' feelings. 'Future potential.'"