Google Maps' open


The Berlin startup scene has its first big exit of 2014, and indeed one of its largest yet: navigation veteran Telenav has picked up local OpenStreetMap specialist Skobbler for $23.8 million.

It's not just good news for Berlin, either. For those involved in OpenStreetMap (OSM), a global, crowdsourced, open-source mapping project, it represents a potentially healthy consolidation. OSM founder Steve Coast recently joined Telenav, and Skobbler is the leader in OSM integration and commercial use. The team's all together now, and all those 1.5 million OSM contributors will now see their work put to greater use - with a good deal more investment, too.

The nice thing about OSM is that, even when the data finds its way into commercial maps, anyone can still download it and find their own use for it. This is a markedly different model from Google's, in which contributors can improve Google Maps but can't then get data out of it.

As far as apps go, the big beneficiary here is Telenav's Google Maps-rivaling Scout app, which is currently heavily U.S.-focused but which will now go global. As Telenav is also working to put Scout into cars, there's scope here for an OSM automotive boost, too. However, by the sounds of it Skobbler's current apps will continue as normal for now - after all, they are big in the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, as opposed to the current North American user base of Scout.

Unlike Google Maps, Skobbler's ForeverMap (iOS) and GPS Navigation & Maps are paid-for, but they have a couple of big selling points: they're tailored for offline use and they use the OSM system which, by its crowdsourced nature, is particularly good for offroad and pedestrian routes - in fact, in countries such as England and Germany, OSM is more detailed than Google Maps and other rivals.

Skobbler also provides a tool called GeOS to help other developers integrate OSM into their services. Foursquare and Wikipedia are notable services that use OSM data.

Telenav has been contributing to the OSM project for the last 3 years, and is already using OSM data in the HTML5 version of its U.S.-focused Scout app.

'By joining our efforts with Skobbler, we will build on our combined successes to bring the best mapping and navigation services to our customers around the world,' Telenav chief HP Jin said in a statement. 'The benefits of an open source model will provide an enormous opportunity to change the economic models of navigation and other location-based services.'

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