By Michal Lev-Ram, writer
FORTUNE -- Google wants everyone to become a cartographer -- and pay for it. On Monday the search company launched Map Engine Pro, a new offering that enables employees to easily turn datasets into interactive, shareable maps. The latest addition to Google Apps for Business, the company's online suite of productivity tools for corporate customers, is designed to sit alongside other workplace applications like documents and spreadsheets.
The technology itself is nothing new. Google (GOOG) has long offered both a free, consumer-facing version of its mapping software and much pricier, heavy-duty mapping services for enterprises that want to plot large amounts of data (at a cost of at least $10,000 a year). Map Engine Pro sits somewhere between those two offerings, and will cost a monthly $5 per user. In effect, it's not so much a new product as a new pricing model for existing technology.
Why would employees (and their employers) want to create maps? According to Google, it can be an effective way of visualizing and analyzing data like customer addresses and employee locations -- basically anything that has a geographic element. For example, a company could plot the locations most customer service calls are coming from in an effort to better utilize their resources. Or map out geographic data of sales leads in an effort to better understand their market. The idea, according to Google, is to make its mapping software as easy and basic a tool as document creating and editing. Users can port data from multiple file formats onto a map interface, then add up to 10 "layers" of information.
"By providing better ways to easily integrate maps into your organization's operations, businesses now have the ability to use powerful mapping technologies that were once only available to the mapping experts," Brian McClendon, Google's VP of maps and earth, wrote in a blog post announcing the new product.
On the consumer end, the Internet has spawned a mapmaking renaissance of sorts (just scroll through your Facebook (FB) feed for a sampling of the latest viral -- and often, politically incorrect -- maps). So maybe cartography will also find some popularity in the workplace, though it's not clear how many companies would be willing to pay, however affordable, for mapmaking capabilities. Still, it's a smart and easy move for the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant -- arguably one of the best (if not the best) mapping companies in the world -- as it tries to compete with the likes of Microsoft (MSFT) and smaller players in the productivity software market.
For companies interested in test-driving Google's mapping capabilities, Google is now offering a free, limited, introductory account that lets users play around with their "geospatial infrastructure." At least corporate customers can play around with the features before deciding whether or not cartography is a necessary tool or just a fun distraction for employees.
The company's mapping switch was widely decried. Have things gotten any better?
FORTUNE -- Nine months after Apple rolled out a much-criticized update to its Maps app for iPhones and iPads, some people are still not pulling punches.
"As most of you probably heard, last December, we launched Google Maps on the iPhone," said Daniel Graf, Director of Google Maps, at this year's Google (GOOG) I/O conference. "It has been a tremendous success. MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - May 29, 2013 6:22 AM ET
Google CEO Larry Page envisions a future in which computers plan your vacations, drive your cars, and anticipate your whims. Audacious? Maybe. But Page's dreams have a way of coming true.
Note: On Jan 3, as Fortune published this article, the Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation of Google's search practices saying it found no evidence that the company manipulated search results in violation of antitrust laws. The European Commission and MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Jan 3, 2013 5:00 AM ET
A heist, a lawsuit, a liar, a passel of new products and a $75 million payout forgone
FORTUNE -- There was no shortage of big Apple (AAPL) news in 2012, from a billion-dollar jury verdict to a three-month bear market that lopped $260 billion off the company's market cap. But of the 814 items filed in this space over the past 12 months, these were the 10 that -- for good or ill -- interested MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 30, 2012 7:13 AM ET
Now that both mapping apps are available for the iPhone, we can compare them head-to-head.
FORTUNE -- Use an iPhone with iOS6? Then earlier this week may have been serious cause for celebration. That's when Google (GOOG) released Google Maps for those devices. The app arrived nearly three months after Apple (APPL) officially launched a version of Maps for the iPhone that swapped out Google's mapping data for the company's own efforts. MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Dec 14, 2012 8:52 AM ET
Apple made one other big change that has displeased users.
FORTUNE -- If you thought Apple Maps was the only problem with iOS 6, think again.
There's another feature getting users riled up: the new Podcasts app. For years, podcasts were treated more like song tracks in Apple's (AAPL) popular mobile operating system. They resided in a separate section of the iPhone's iPod app. With the introduction earlier this year of a separate MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 4, 2012 10:39 AM ET
The Wall St. Journal columnist who foresaw the "Microsofting of Apple" has a new theory
FORTUNE -- Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. published a provocative theory Wednesday in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal.
The "maps farrago," as the paper's Business World columnist calls it, is a symptom of Apple's (AAPL) deeper problem: In a world in which content is king, the company's business model is doomed to failure.
Apple, he says, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Sep 27, 2012 6:28 AM ET
Facebook's newest advertising technique raises concerns; why so-called 'Silicon Valley wallflowers' are hot.
Myspace teases a completely rethought service, and believe it or not, it looks beautiful [THE NEXT WEB]
As you can see in the teaser below, discovered by Grace Dent and The Financial Times' Tim Bradshaw, Myspace is debuting a media-focused social network which emphasizes imagery, a static footer navigation bar with a built-in music player and a left-to-right timeline of posts.
Facebook raises fears with ad tracking MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Sep 25, 2012 6:30 AM ET
The company's real mistake may have been not doing it years ago
FORTUNE -- Unbeknownst to me, I've been feeding geographical information into Google's (GOOG) mapping database for years -- searching for addresses, sharing my location, checking for traffic jams on Google Maps. Google, for its part, has been scraping that data for every nugget of intelligence its computers can extract. Without consciously volunteering, I've been participating in a massive crowdsourcing experiment MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Sep 23, 2012 7:15 AM ET
One of the mysteries surrounding the 500,000-square foot server farm Apple (AAPL) has famously constructed in a small North Carolina town called Maiden -- besides its ultimate purpose -- is why it didn't show up on Google Earth.
We knew what it looked like, thanks to the local Fox TV affiliate, a trespassing photographer and a local real estate agent who conducted a couple of video flybys that ended up on MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jun 1, 2011 6:46 AM ET
|The Deep Web you don't know about|
|Pizza chain Sbarro files for bankruptcy|
|AT&T cuts prices again|
|More trouble for Boeing's Dreamliner|
|Invest $1 million, try for a U.S. green card|