As mobile becomes normal for the Web, location becomes key. The next phase of location apps are live, right there with the user as she goes about her business. When it comes to mapping the outside world, the space is pretty crowded. It's hard to argue with Google Maps, whose free consumer service powers the maps on both dominant smartphone platforms. For businesses, it's crucial to be on the map, and Google Places can't be overlooked.
But there's another frontier of mobile mapping that matters, and the exploration has just begun. Indoor mapping of big buildings - like airports, convention centers, museums and stores - is the El Dorado of mobile location. Google has begun its expedition inside buildings, and businesses can sign up and offer their floor plans. But there's another option: Use a platform like Meridian and build your own inside map. Which is better for business?
Google launched interior maps in November. It's currently only available on Google Maps for Android. When it launched, it came with a bunch of partners, and it offered any business owner the ability to submit a floor plan for inclusion. After that, the business owner doesn't have to do a thing except submit updated plans if things change. Google handles the rest.
Business owners have enough to think about, so letting a service provider handle all this mapping stuff could be a convenient choice. Google has a vested interest in presenting the most attractive local business listings it can. But are they always the most accurate? In October, Google decided to take responsibility for updating business listings into its own hands, asking owners about changes only after the fact.
If you need fine-grained control over how your business appears online, you might want a more custom solution.
Meridian: Roll Your Own Map
Meridian, it's a grand affair. It announces partners one at a time, such as the launch of the Oregon Convention Center app yesterday. Unlike Google, Meridian is in start-up mode, but it raised $1 million last year on the premise that the best location-based business apps are built by the businesses themselves.When a location releases an app built with
Meridian has offered consumers interior mapping longer than Google has, but only for a few participating locations. That's not a shortcoming, though; Meridian is a platform. For consumers, it's an app that lets them navigate inside favorite museums, stadiums and stores (currently mostly in Meridian's hometown of Portland, Ore.). But for businesses, it's a way to build and control a 3D interior map of their own location and offer a custom-branded app for it.
It has its own Web-based editing tools, so owners can move around contents of the map like store displays or museum exhibits. You can include audio tours or featured products that display prominently for the user. It will even push pertinent information to the customer's device.
How Should Businesses Handle Maps?
If you own or work for a business with a building you want mapped for smartphones, think about priorities. Is it better for you to ship off location data to a service provider who will handle it for you, or would you rather have constant control over the experience? Do you just need to be on the map, or would you like to build the app?
Whichever option makes the most sense for you, it's exciting to have such choices. The power of the mobile Web to enhance the world for users and raise the profile of local businesses is only just starting to kick in.
Which location-based services do you use, whether for work or for fun?