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Should Nav and Map App Makers Fear Google?

Earlier we reported that Google was abandoning Tele-Atlas to begin collecting its own mapping data. Now Forbes is reporting that personal navigation companies are afraid that Google will begin making its own PND software, undercutting the market's current leaders. Add to this Apple's recent acquisition of a mapping startup ostensibly to develop its own map data service, and you've just calculated the shortest distance to a technology throwdown.

google maps

Google would be able to offer such map data more cheaply because it is crowd-sourcing much of the grunt work. (Above, vehicles recording Google Street View, another one of Google's sources of map data, by Chris Malcolm.)

Right now, consumers pay subscription fees for getting fresh mobile maps beamed to their PNDs or smartphones. But Forbes says that Google may pursue a free, ad-supported model that would bring smartphone makers (and customers) running, leaving PNDs behind. With its Android smartphones, Google would have a ready-made mobile launchpad.

According to Forbes: "Close watchers of Google say there is evidence it is developing a navigation app. The company has been collecting mapping data for years via several methods, including high-resolution satellites and its own fleet of camera-equipped cars. In August, it rolled out an additional feature that sources traffic information directly from its users' phones."

But Google will have a willing competitor in Apple, which looks to be developing its own map data service as well. In July, Apple acquired the startup Placebase—which specialized in customizing public and private mapping data—and quickly integrated the newcomers into its GEO team. But Apple seems less likely to license its map data to other companies—after all, they won't even license OS X to other computer-makers. But with the iPhone's substantial lead in the smartphone market, Google's toe-hold in mobile mapping could prove tenuous.

Both Google and Apple have been tight-lipped about their strategies, though industry speculation abounds.