Last week, online mapping platform Mapbox announced the launch of Smart Directions, a premium addition to its core offering which allows organizations and developers to incorporate maps into their applications. With Smart Directions, companies and developers are given the ability to create custom routing profiles which enable them to describe how users should be taken from their starting points to their destinations.
As Mapbox explains, "It's no longer just about the shortest or fastest route — now you can have the most energy efficient route for your electric car, or a route with the steepest hills for training, or you can set your skill level to see only the mountain bike trails with which you're comfortable."
To demonstrate the capabilities of Smart Directions, Mapbox has partnered with Scoot, a San Francisco-based startup that is building shared networks of electric motor-scooters that the company's subscribers can use on an on-demand basis. Smart Directions has been added to Scoot's mobile app, which now allows users of the app to be "routed around steep hills, kept off highways, and even steered clear of streets with cable cars — with alternative routes given where convenient." The end result: the Scoot app "gets Scoot riders to their destination faster and safer."
David and Goliath, platform-style
Mapbox, which offers its platform on a freemium basis, relies heavily on, and is a major contributor to, OpenStreetMap, the openly licensed mapping project that has emerged as arguably the biggest threat to Google Maps' dominance.
Last year, Mapbox raised $10 million in funding and hinted at a vision that could pose an even bigger challenge to Google Maps. "We want to have the map as a canvas, and then we want to be this platform for all sorts of other data. This isn’t just about the base map. This is about you being able to use some other crazy data overlays — you’re going to see us come out with weather data, traffic data, real-time satellite data," Mapbox CEO Eric Gundersen told TechCrunch.
This vision is now starting to be realized with Smart Directions, Mapbox's first premium add-on to its core offering. Users of that core offering range from social networks like Foursquare and Pinterest to media organizations like The Financial Times and Le Monde.
As Mapbox's Gundersen explained to TechCrunch, "Google has built amazing maps and routing but they are designing those for Google." By giving its customers the ability to develop highly-customized map-based experiences of their own, Mapbox has the potential to serve as the foundation of new kinds of mapping applications and, possibly, become the internet's go-to mapping platform in the process.