Amazon takes on Apple and Google, snaps up 3D mapping startup UpNext

While you were away: not to be outclassed by Apple or Google, online retailer Amazon has just entered the mapping business by allegedly acquiring a mapping startup UpNext, according to an exclusive GigaOM report. The New York-based company is behind an interesting three-dimensional mapping app for iOS devices, UpNext Maps for iPhone and UpNext HD Maps for iPad (Android and Kindle versions are also available).

Both free downloads, these programs offer both the traditional map view, but also have built-in deals and social features and offline mode. There’s also a three-dimensional view with models of more than 50 cities in the United States. Something tells me the apps will soon be gone from the App Store as Amazon makes these exclusive to its own tablet…

I remember trying out their iPad app when it came out and blogging about it over at 9to5Mac, writing that it “feels like a complete mapping solution akin to Google Maps with Navigation for Android”, at the time an Achilles’ heel on the iOS platform because Google kept navigation exclusive to Android.

While it can’t compete with eye-candy of 3D maps from Google and Apple, UpNext Maps sure are interactive and fun. Besides, the app (co-developed with Verizon Wireless) impresses with vector-based goodness, decent search, beautiful cartography and an all-round elegant experience.

The experience that with this acquisition will probably become unique to Amazon only.

Here, check out the iPhone client.


And here’s the iPad version.


So, why am I reporting this on an iOS-centric blog?

Because this acquisition serves to illustrate the four companies that are going to duke it out to become the dominant one-click entertainment shopping mall on the Internet.

Think about it, who are the movers and shakers on the web today?

There are only four companies whose computing platforms pretty much ruled the web:

1. Apple, which makes hugely popular iOS devices and runs the iTunes content store
2. Google, which manages Android, the dominant mobile platform
3. Amazon, the online shopping giant and increasingly an entertainment provider with its movies, music and app stores and Kindle family of devices and tablets
4. Facebook, which leverages its unmatched reach to foster third-party apps either exclusive to the site or standalone, with Facebook integration built in; Facebook is also thought to be entering the mobile hardware business with a pet phone project.

I mean, Eric Schmidt said as much at last year’s D9.

He told Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher:

Four companies are exploiting platform strategies very well – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. These are global companies with reach and economics.

We’ve never had four companies growing at the scale those are, in aggregate. We can debate who’s fifth or sixth (he mentioned eBay or Twitter).

Here’s Kara Swisher reflecting on that quote.


I think he nailed.

Count me officially excited as I’ll be expecting more surprising Amazon acquisitions as the plot thickens.

Their Kindle Fire may not be the prettiest and snazziest of Android tablets – especially now that Google unveiled its sleek Nexus 7 – but they will iterate it, bring new models into the mix and carve out a market for themselves.

Heck, for all we know, Amazon could be working on an operating system of its own.

Can you say a Kindle Phone?