Amazon has done a really interesting thing: it just bought mapping app UpNext. UpNext is a 3D mapping company that started on the PC in 2007 and more recently shifted its focus substantially to smartphones and the iPad.
While UpNext has not received the same attention as other mapping startups the company has slowly built coverage and depth over the past five years. When the site originally launched it aspired to be a kind of “3D Yelp.”
There’s a lot of room for speculation about what this means for Amazon and its future mobile plans. GigaOM, which first reported the acquisition, says that UpNext team will head to Seattle to become the core of a new mapping initiative at Amazon.
That strongly argues there will be an Amazon-branded Android smartphone (which has been rumored) and more mapping acquisitions to come. Mapping and navigation is a core competitive feature on smartphones and to a lesser degree tablets, which are largely used at home.
While Amazon could allow access to Google Maps on the Kindle Fire, it’s not available through the Amazon appstore. Instead Amazon offers MapQuest and Nokia Maps apps. (Wouldn’t it be a radical move if Amazon made a bid to acquire MapQuest from AOL?)
Apple made several mapping acquisitions over a period of three or four years before announcing Apple Maps for iOS 6. It’s clear that if Amazon is going to develop a full-fledged competitor and alternative to Google Maps it will need more coverage and horsepower than what UpNext currently provides or what it probably could build in the near term.
Amazon clearly has the resources to become a fourth major player in the mapping space, after Google, Apple and Nokia/Microsoft. Below is a video of UpNext’s capabilities and functionality.