Amazon Gains Mapping With UpNext Acquisition, Will Location Follow?
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
A new purchase for Amazon may just give the online retailer and maker of the Amazon Kindle what it wants: Location, location, location. Amazon acquired 3D map tech startup firm UpNext, for an undisclosed sum.
The New York-based UpNext, which is comprised solely of four founding members, has built apps with 3D mapping for the iPhone, Android and Kindle Fire. To date, the company has mapped 50 cities, with enhanced details in 23 cities and textured 3D with roadways, according to an article on Wired.com.
To date, Amazon has had no mapping applications, particularly mobile mapping applications. For its Kindle Fire tablet, users must download a third-party app in order to get maps such as Google Maps or MapQuest. The current-generation Kindle Fire actually doesn’t have a GPS radio, which is a point brought up by many sites covering the acquisition, including GigaOm, who broke the story.
It’s possible that future generations of Amazon Kindle tablets will have GPS radios to better utilize maps and location-based services. Rumors also seeded the internet last fall that Amazon might release a smartphone in the last quarter of this year. Providing a navigation app through either development or acquisition might be confirmation on Amazon’s entry into the smartphone business.
While many people are pointing out that the current generation Amazon Kindle Fire doesn’t have a GPS radio, that doesn’t mean that map programs won’t work, or even that the tablets can’t locate you on a map. Google initially was able to provide location for mobile users by triangulating cell towers. For 3G-powered Kindle Fire tablets, that might be possible. Other means might be available for Wi-Fi-only tablets.
UpNext, while it has a robust set of apps, is still limited in that the four founders build each city or location in 3D individually. In order to get full coverage, development will need to advance at a faster rate to grow from 50 cities to the whole country including rural areas, and the world.
The startup company has done more than simply mapping cities in 3D. UpNext created apps for Super Bowl XLV and XLVI, with 3D versions of the stadium as well as the surrounding area. It is possible that Amazon is interested in more than just its own branded navigation app. It could also be interested in building local apps, or other apps with 3D environments.
The 3D mapping company was founded in New York in 2007 by four high school friends and has remained in operations with just its original four members. The company has run mostly self-funded, and received a round of $500,000 in funding last March with investors including Lowercase Capital, Bullet Time Ventures, Box Group and PKS Capital. GigaOm reports that investors are said to be getting a 5x return on investment from the March 2011 round of funding.
GigaOm also states that the company’s four founding members will relocate to Seattle to lead Amazon’s core mapping effort. There will likely be a transition period, but if rumors of a smartphone from Amazon are at all correct, we’ll likely see an Amazon-branded mapping and navigation app at launch, which will likely be available on more than just Amazon’s Kindle line of tablets and phones.