Last week Telenav acquired Skobbler for roughly $24 million in cash and stock. Skobbler is based in Berlin, Germany and is to OpenStreetMap (OSM) what Red Hat is to Linux according to Ryan Peterson of Telenav.
For those not aware, OSM is the Wikipedia of digital mapping. It relies on a global force of over 1.5 million volunteer editors or contributors.
Telenav, which got its start in white label navigation and enterprise fleet tracking, is the creator of Scout, a consumer navigation app that Telenav believes is capable of taking on Google Maps. According to Peterson, the Skobbler acquisition will help advance the company’s launch of Scout outside the US. Skobbler has a couple of different map and navigation apps that will be incorporated or folded into the Scout brand.
Skobbler has the distinction of being “the first company to launch a commercial navigation app using OSM,” according to the press materials accompanying the acquisition announcement. OSM’s founder, Steve Coast, is also now part of Telenav.
Coast argues that OSM’s data and ultimately its open, crowd-sourced approach will enable it to surpass Google Maps in quality and detail:
OSM is one of the world’s most active open and crowd-sourced projects with over 1.5 million registered editors (a number that has been doubling every year). It has grown exponentially faster than I could have ever imagined ten years ago. In fact, it has been a fantastic display map (map you can look at) for some time, mapped right down to trees and footpaths. We’ve seen many uses of OSM in that context, from mere pretty artifacts to stimulating visualizations. The quality of the map data has evolved so much that, in the past couple of years, developers like Foursquare, Pinterest and Uber have integrated OSM as a display map into their products (most likely as a way to get access to a more detailed map and to avoid those costly fees from Google).
Of course Google employs crowdsourcing too and recently bought Waze. However Google licenses its data, whereas OSM is free. In a number of markets (e.g., UK, Germany) Coast and OSM enthusiasts contend that it offers more quality and detail than Google Maps (e.g., walking routes).
Telenav wants to make it easier for regular people to contribute to improving and enriching OSM. The company also wants to raise the profile of OSM generally, which will help raise the profile of its own product in turn.
Telenav is going to beef up the personalization and content available through Scout to differentiate it from Google Maps. Telenav uses the tagline “personalized navigation” to describe and differentiate Scout.
In addition Telenav is already pushing beyond the boundaries of traditional navigation with events, activities and travel-related content. Essentially Scout aspires to be more like Yelp and TripAdvisor, though even broader and more encompassing — with maps and navigation at the core. And like Apple, Nokia and Google Maps, Scout has deals with automakers and is putting its brand, data and functionality into cars.
In response to those who would dismiss Scout as a bit player on the global mapping stage, Telenav points to Scout’s higher user ratings than Google Maps in the Google Play store.