Last year, Amazon Web Services, Meta, Microsoft, and TomTom came together to create the Overture Maps Foundation (OMF) in an effort to create and provide open source data for third-party mapping software. Their efforts paid off, and after eight months of work, the organization released its first open dataset.
With this launch, it could give third-party developers the opportunity to create navigation apps that can compete with Apple Maps and Google Maps. OMF states in its announcement that the data set contains a lot of information divided across four different “layers.” These categories include “data on more than 59 million places,” the world’s roads, as well as “administrative boundaries” such as regional names for particular locations.
If you look at the map published on the official website, the OMF version covers most of the planet. However, it excludes areas as far away as northern Canada.
These categories are formatted in the organization’s introduction schema, which is specifically designed “so developers can quickly understand it.” The goal of this launch, noted earlier, is to provide free and easy access to an interoperable mapping API (Application Programming Interface). Both Apple and Google typically charge developers to access their APIs, so this endeavor could disrupt their business.
It’s unknown if and when we’ll start seeing any apps using the OMF dataset; Although this technology may appear in other programs besides smartphone maps. We could see this information used in self-driving vehicles, logistics, education, gaming, and even in the Metaverse, according to a statement from the Linux Foundation.
If you’re a developer interested in this dataset, you can download it from the OMF website although it seems you need to become a member of the organization first. This is a work in progress so the organization is asking for feedback through its GitHub page.
Much needed competition
The question is, will this effort be enough to displace Apple Maps and Google Maps? It’s hard to say. Since its founding, OMF has gained new members such as Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) and Cyient. All participants participate by providing their mapping data for further development of the API. It’s a major collaborative effort by some of the world’s largest technology companies to foster “next-generation mapping products” that don’t rely on data from just two companies.
On the other hand, we’re talking about Apple and Google. Attempts were made to overthrow these giants to no avail. For example, TomTom offered its own location-based services to other companies in the past such as Microsoft in order to compete with Google but failed. Google Maps still reigns supreme with over 10 billion downloads from the Play Store.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this. Additional competition could force dominant apps to reinvent themselves in a way that greatly benefits the consumer, or at least offers more choices.