Huawei gets Yandex and Booking.com for upcoming mapping service – report

Huawei aims to launch its own business-facing mapping service in October, with Russian internet service company Yandex and Booking.com already embracing the initiative, reports China’s media.

Days after it unveiled its own mobile operating system Harmony OS, Huawei is reportedly preparing to launch its own mapping service, called Map Kit, in October, according to a report by China Daily, one of the key official media outlets in China. The newspaper cited “a source familiar with the matter” (although other sections of the report indicate that source may actually have been the president of cloud services at Huawei’s consumer business group) that Huawei has already recruited as software partners in Yandex, the Russian internet heavyweight sometimes dubbed “Russia’s Google”, and Booking Holdings, the American travel aggregator and parent company of Booking.com, Kayak.com, Cheapflights, etc.

The is a logical move by Huawei when it aims to gain more independence from Google, to prepare for the rainy days if the axe of American ban falls heavy again (there are plenty of signs that it may if the trade war is not solved soon). However not enough details have been disclosed for the observers to evaluate the viability of the initiative.

As its name suggests, the Map Kit is not meant for end users but rather an SDK for application developers to build location-based services on top. Huawei plans to make the software suite available in 40 languages and roll it out in 150 countries. According to the report, the Map Kit will support apps to offer real-time traffic conditions and sophisticated navigation systems as well as support augmented-reality mapping. The report specifically said that the software will be able to recognize a car changing lanes, suggesting extremely high precision of its location data.

The report does not spell out the sources of the location data though. China has launched its own satellite navigation system BeiDou to rival the American owned GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and the European Union’s Galileo. To couple with the fact that Google services including Google Maps are inaccessible in China, it is safe to bet that in China, Huawei’s Map Kit will gather the location data either directly from the state’s navigation system or through third party, such as AutoNavi (an Alibaba subsidiary).

The partnership with Yandex may indicate that the Russian internet giant will provide location data that is not attainable yet from China’s BeiDou, which aims to provide global coverage by 2020. The line in the China Daily report that “Huawei Map Kit will be connected to local mapping services” suggests that Huawei may also use location data from existing navigation and mapping services in countries it intends to offer the Kit to. This is a common practice in mapping data gathering. Because China’s law bans unofficial navigation and location data gathering, both Google Maps and Apple Maps buy location data from AutoNavi.

Another key missing point in the report is the operating system the SDK will run on. It is highly unlikely that it will operate on Harmony OS, which will not be ready by the targeted time frame of the intended launch of Map Kit: Harmony OS was only introduced on PowerPoint slides at the developer conference when it was unveiled, with no hardware nor user manuals for the developers to try their hands on. Additionally, Harmony OS is meant primarily as an operating system for IoT businesses.

On the other hand, if the Map Kit was to run in the Android environment, it would defeat the very purpose of Huawei becoming more independent of Google.

Google continues to tap into the power of Maps

Ask any Android user and you’ll hear a glowing reference for Google’s mapping features, and the power of investing in the future is on show once again.

This is perhaps one of the most admirable aspects of Google Maps. This is a product which would have cost a lot of money and time to develop, at least to ensure it is the most useful of its kind, while there was little immediate return on investment. Now Google is reaping the commercial benefits of Maps, but it is still keeping an eye on new features, improved experience and, eventually, additional revenues.

“Not only does Google Maps help you navigate, explore, and get things done at home, but it’s also a powerful travel companion,” Rachel Inman wrote on Google’s blog.

“After you’ve booked your trip, these new tools will simplify every step of your trip once you’ve touched down–from getting around a new city to reliving every moment once you’re home.”

Google is not a company which makes money by accident. It might be the most popular search engine worldwide, but every time there is a hint of a glass ceiling, new ideas seem to emerge.

The acquisitions of Android and DeepMind certainly added new elements to the business model, its smart speakers and push into the connected car offer more engagement points moving away from traditional user interface, and Maps is an on-going project which seems to never get old.

This latest push forward from Google makes the mapping product more useful for those who are going on holiday.

Starting with the simplest add-on, reservations for both flights and hotels can be stored in the Maps app, allowing users to horde all relevant details into the same place irrelevant to whether the user has connectivity at that point. For those who have smartphone compatible with the ARCore and ARKit, navigation becomes simpler with pop-up directional graphics on the screen, while AI has been introduced to improve restaurant recommendations. Finally, a timeline has been introduced which can link experiences and content to places.

These are not necessarily revolutionary, but very few Google Maps features are. These are little additions which makes the mapping product easier to use and more useful. The incremental gain is quite evident through every feature which is adding every couple of months, and this is why so many people use Maps as a default application.

As with much that Google does, the features have been introduced to improve user experience and add extra value. However, there is also a great opportunity to commercialise these features without being intrusively commercial.

Looking at the restaurant recommendations, like with the search engine, some establishments will likely be able to pay for more prominent positioning. The same could be said for local landmarks and attractions in cities across the world. Although Google does create useful products, it never does anything for free. The user might not have to pay, but there is commercial element to everything which is being done.

However, what Google does very well is not to over commercialise the platform or product. As soon as something become offensively commercial, users are turned off. Just look at what happened to the core Facebook platform over the last few years. Facebook forgot what the core objective of the platform was, to connect friends and family, and it has started to impact engagement as well as the acquisition of new users through its commercial activities.

Facebook is still the leader when it comes to the social media segment, though other platforms seem to be better at engaging younger audiences, the demographics critical for sustainable revenues in the long-run. Snapchat, Instagram (admittedly a Facebook business), Twitter or Pinterest are not attracting the same experience criticism as Facebook has been over the last few years.

With Google Maps, the team seem to have struck the right balance. It’s a very useful application for numerous reasons and makes money for the search giant.

Another example of improved functionality with no-immediate financial benefit is focused on public transport. At the beginning of July, a new feature which will tell users how busy public transport is likely to be and whether users should anticipate delays on a journey was introduced. This is useful to have but has no immediate commercial benefit. However, when Google also suggests alternative means of transport, Uber for instance, and helps the user make a booking, there will be some sort of commercial benefit.

In helping customers with their travel plans, hotels and airlines can be partners, features and prompts introduced, and money can be made. Booking a restaurant through the Google Maps feature is another way, while the promotion of local tourist attractions is a third. It’s the traditional referral business with a slightly different twist.

Mapping is not a cheap business to enter into, there is a lot of data which needs to be acquired and managed after all. And when you start adding in additional features as Google constantly seems to do, the application becomes increasingly expensive and harder to deliver the promised experience. But this is where Google is a very admirable business; it never skimps when investing in creating a product to meet expectations.

It might have taken years to start to see the profits, but Google is now reaping the benefits of patience.