Why Did Google Scrap Its Location Service?

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Reasons Cited Include Privacy, Lack of Retail Support

Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

Google Here, a proposed beacon-based location service operating within Google Maps, was reportedly cancelled due to a concern by Alphabet CEO Larry Page’s that it would be too invasive by the users of his mapping service. When the location industry has such a dominant player pull out of a nascent, and potentially lucrative, proximity service, does it mean that consumers will now have to wait for a full-scale rollout? Google will remain a major player with its Google Maps app, but where does it go from there?

Citing privacy issues and lack of retail partners for support, Google scraped its Google Here location service that would have used the company’s Maps technology to send notifications to users when they entered a specific location.

In a recent Fortune article, Alphabet CEO Larry Page said the company killed the project because it was too invasive to consumers, and the company was uncertain whether retail partners could have helped to roll out the service. Besides being in conflict with an existing location Here name (such as the former Nokia, and now German consortium, mapping service), the service included partnerships with retailers — and would have been available to more than 350 million Android users earlier this year.

Google makes money off of advertising through its Maps app, but the Fortune article said that the proposed Here location service would have made it even more valuable to advertisers.

So what does the location industry make of one of the largest players not rolling out a location service? To at least one analyst, it’s a “so what” report considering Google in July rolled out a new agnostic beacon service called Eddystone. “Somewhat curiously, the company appears to be moving forward with location-based advertising under the guise of the Eddystone project, so beacons and their use in location-based advertising seem still of interest — just not beacons combined with messaging that might make Google Maps an uncontrollable nag about shopping opportunities,” said Mike Dobson, Telemapics president.

Eddystone, a new format for Bluetooth Low Energy beacons, works with Google’s Android operating system along with Apple’s iOS and other platforms that connect through BLE.

Overall, Dobson believes that Google is approaching middle-age in terms of corporate development. “It is both developing a conscience about how its services really operate, as well as imposing economic constraints limiting how much the company is willing to spend to determine whether a potential market might be a big hit,” he said. “More specifically, it is my opinion that Google is slowly reining in the spending on new innovations for Google Maps, as well as the expenses associated with supporting the lakes in the data reservoir associated with their mapping product. Google may have finally realized that maintaining spatial data is expensive and a cost that is never going to decrease.”

Dobson also said that the Google Here program was going to be an expensive proposition. “My understanding of the Google Here program was that Google would provide the beacons and infrastructure and control delivery of the service through Google Maps. That’s a lot of beacons and associated support — in other words, more money,” he said. “Conversely, Eddystone appears to offer a standardized, industry-supported approach that is beneficial for Google and companies interested in testing the concept.”

Dobson said the name “Here” could have caused problems for Google. “Two other issues crossed my mind when I heard the news of the cancellation. First, who at Google forgot trademark law and thought they could combine the name of the well-known mapping company Here with Google?” he said. “Second, if I owned an application as successful as Google Maps is on mobile phones, I sure would not want to push my users to consider switching to a less-invasive mapping app. You know, that Larry Page guy sure seems to know his Alphabet.”

Big Competitors Getting into Beacons, with Huge Market Expected

Recent Allied Business Intelligence reports indicate that BLE beacon shipments will exceed 400 million units by 2020. While optimistic, and only five years away, ABI said that pure beacon shipment revenues will break $1 billion this year.

Google’s July entry into the location-beacon space is significant, if not surprising, to heat up the location market. However, competition is fierce as Apple, Facebook and Twitter now have dedicated BLE resources.

The location-beacon market is heating up as Gimbal, the Qualcomm spin-off company, installed approximately 1,300 BLE beacons in areas at South by Southwest. Gimbal said it was making its technology available to enable any BLE device to act as a dedicated location beacon.

Google plans to improve its own products and services through the Eddystone beacon technology, according to a company blog. Earlier this year, the company launched beacon-based transit notifications in Portland that enable users to get faster access to schedules for specific locations.

With rise in commercial location-based beacon technology comes a cross-over movement in public safety markets. TeleCommunication Systems, which bought Loctronix in July, is developing the indoor public safety and emergency market, along with Longmont, Colo.-based Intrado.

As detailed in last month’s Wireless LBS Insider column, beacons and Wi-Fi seem to be the lead technologies in use for emergency indoor location. Intrado installed 65 Apple iBeacons at the Washington Convention Center to showcase its developing indoor positioning technology at the APCO trade show.

It’s not all about beacons in this proximity/contextual location market. The analytical data derived from the beacon information will grow into a huge market. As we reported this summer, a new location analytics product is hitting the market in a more and more crowded indoor-positioning field.

Such companies as Cloud4Wi, with its Fogsense product, is tailored to retail outlets, coffee shops, restaurant chains and shopping malls with presence analytics and location-based services.

The device, which contains Broadcom’s WICED chip, features BLE technology in the new version in (the fourth quarter), said Elena Briola, Cloud4Wi’s chief marketing officer. The new BLE version will enable Apple iBeacon and location-aware mobile applications, the company said.

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