Who would have thunk it, but Google have announced over the last few weeks that they are de-supporting Google Maps Engine and the Google Earth API, plus Google Earth Pro will now be free. This all adds up to Google no longer being interested in the enterprise mapping market, or anyone paying them for mapping services. It probably also means the writing is on the wall for Google Earth more generally – this neither produces an income nor is it a helpful part of google’s search (in the way that Google Maps is). Seems difficult to believe given the money they have invested over the last 10 years or so. But Google are a pretty ruthless bunch. While we used to get really excited over the innovative new technologies that appeared from Google Labs (itself discontinued in 2011), and we certainly like what they give away for free (eg. gmail, docs a.k.a. drive, calendar), Google do have a bit of a reputation for dropping things that are not congruent with their direction of travel or don’t (directly or indirectly) make enough money. It’s not a long-term “lets migrate our users to the new product” approach, it’s rather a blink and it’s gone, dropped-like-a-hot-potato. It’s a shame to see a company move from being innovative and ideas-led to become narrowly focussed on making short-term money, and fighting off competitors (who mentioned Microsoft?). I guess the worry is that this may signal that Google’s entire investment in data and free mapping is ‘at risk’ – which would certainly be a shock, with ramifications across our industry. There is no doubt that the way Google provided maps, imagery and technology has overturned the geospatial industry and showcased the value of ‘geo’ into a world far beyond. Is there a risk it all falls apart? Probably not, we’ve come too far with open data, open street maps, openlayers, leaflet, chameleon, mapserver, standards (like KML and SVG) and Google’s many imitators to return to the bad old days of expensive data and expensive applications, but ESRI are clearly rubbing their hands with glee as they get set to takeover Google’s enterprise customers. Given the history of ESRI’s panic reaction to Google’s entry into this market, Uncle Jack Dangermond must be smiling like a Cheshire cat. Equally, in the UK, I am sure the Ordnance Survey see Google’s move as a marvellous opportunity for OpenSpace and other services.
Oh, and before you get too excited at Google Earth Pro being free, it doesn’t give much in the way of extra functionality!