If you really want to understand human nature — really gain a deep sense about how people operate, and where they want to go — you could do worse than to study maps. They can show how people thought about the world, and how they pushed at the frontiers of known lands. Maps can teach us about how we live now and what changes are in store. All you need is the proper mapping technology, enough knowledge and a reasonable dose of imagination — maps will show you much, much more than how to get from point A to point B.
We don’t mean to get all PBS-serious on you, dear PYMNTS readers, but we have a point, as long-winded as it might be. A good deal of what’s coming in payments and commerce can be seen via what’s going on with maps. They are not only doing specific, day-to-day jobs for consumers, merchants and others, but pointing the way toward innovations, disruptions and trends that could dominate the 2020s.
The latest such examples come courtesy of Google Maps. Indeed, news broke this week that dining technology platform Dineout has collaborated with Google. Users now have more options to look at in Google Maps by coming across dining options close to them, reserving a table for the date and time they want and selecting available offers. The launch of this program follows the recent debut of a partnership involving Google Maps and India-based table reservation platform EazyDiner to display discounts through the popular navigation app. The startup, which is based in New Dehli, has been in business for five years and has notched more than $13 million in funding.
Maps and Operating System Battles
In such cases, of course, maps are pointing the way toward not only further restaurant innovations — the restaurant industry being among the most exciting in all of retail in terms of innovation and disruption — but also the emerging and lucrative connected vehicle ecosystem. Indeed, the likes of Google, Amazon and others are fighting for better placement of their various apps and technologies within that ecosystem — a fight that will greatly influence the future of connected cars and trucks. One of the latest examples of that comes from General Motors, which plans to add Google apps capability to its cars in 2021.
As for Amazon, a little over a year ago it launched the Alexa Auto software development kit (SDK) before rolling out the corresponding piece of hardware — the Alexa Auto device, designed to wire Alexa OS directly into the car via Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE or an auxiliary jack.
These recent moves might directly involve maps, but you can bet those technologies will be tied as closely as possible to automobile and road navigation systems, and in-car mapping offerings.
And why not? According to AAA, Americans spend 50 minutes behind the wheel each day on average. And the 2019 edition of PYMNTS digital drive report says consumers behind the wheel represent a $260 billion commerce opportunity annually in the U.S. — and the U.S population is becoming increasingly habituated to using voice controls to mediate those transactions.
Maps and Self-Driving Cars
Indeed, when it comes to the next expected technological advance after connected vehicles — self-driving cars — maps will play a major role there, as early signs already indicate. In the coming years, maps will tell self-driving cars when to turn left and right, where to exit an interstate and where to park. That might not have quite the romantic appeal of the analog devices from previous centuries, but the newest maps will provide significant economic gain, and seem likely to capture their own place in history.
Among the players trying to gain an edge in this part of the mapping landscape are Microsoft, Intel and SoftBank, along with a mapping startup called Mapbox. Mapbox has partnered with those organizations to “deepen its push into providing maps for self-driving cars.” As for Mapbox, it “does not make a mapping app itself,” according to a report. “It instead competes against Alphabet Inc.’s Google Maps and HERE Technologies, the map firm owned by a group of companies, to provide the underlying maps inside of other apps. Mapbox maps are found in Snap Inc.’s messaging app and the Instacart grocery delivery app.”
There is big money in Mapbox’s type of business. SoftBank — with its Arm Holdings chip unit in this deal — is part of a group of investors that has, so far, raised at least $228 million for Mapbox, which is based in Washington, D.C. Another recent report says SoftBank gearing up to invest $2.25 billion in the General Motors (GM) self-driving unit Cruise, in what appears to be validating GM’s position in autonomous driving.
The maps for self-driving cars would no doubt confound even the most imaginative explorers of old. According to Reuters, “One of Mapbox’s products is software that lets either a mobile phone or a car’s computer see the road as the car drives, picking out things like lanes or speed-limit signs. The company said it will weave that software together with an offering from Microsoft.”
Such mapping technology can enable drivers in the car to see “real-time events like speed limit changes,” the report added. Data collected by the technology can flow to Microsoft computers over the cloud, where algorithms work on all that information in an ongoing effort to improve navigation for self-driving vehicles.
Maps can describe many things, some directly, some indirectly. Keep your eyes on the evolution of maps in the payments and commerce space and you’ll likely do a better job anticipating the future than will people who don’t.