When Rene gave us a As the Turn-By-Turn Turns update yesterday, we got a very smart comment from somebody calling him/herself GoogleLicense:

TiPB ought to do some research on the why’s behind this and break the story since the iphone press seems to love reporting this topic.
It might be something like this: Apple licenses significant parts of their map stuff from Google. Google licenses significant parts of their map stuff from several other vendors. Each license has certain restrictions.
If you dig around in the bowels of Google’s developer site looking for info on required copyrights and license restrictions when using embeddable maps, you can get a lot of details of what is and isn’t allowed for what sets of data and who the original source is that is putting those restrictions…

Indeed, we know a good idea when we see it. After the break, a short history of map providers, their licenses, and why it seems like waiting for Turn-by-Turn directions within Google Maps on the iPhone isn't a great idea.

Read on!

There are two major players in the map-providing business, Navteq and Tele Atlas. Navteq has been purchased by Nokia and TomTom wanted to buy Tele Atlas (and then they did).

Clear so far? It gets better. Let's start with Navteq map data

Navteq Map Data

Google Maps comes to us in two ways: directly via http://maps.google.com and via free APIs. Anybody is free to use the APIs to provide map locations (hence the many awesome Google Maps mashups out there) and it's a safe bet that Google Maps on the iPhone uses them too. Now, the web version of Google Maps mostly uses Navteq but may use a little Tele Atlas as well.

However, the API only provides Tele Atlas data, it appears that it's prohibited from serving Navteq data. As early as '05 there has been speculation that there was some sort of license fight between Google and Navteq and both sides decided to take their ball and go home. In the previously linked article, Nat Torkington wonders whether the sticking point is the "free" part in Google's free map API.

Seems likely to me. Google Maps on the iPhone is probably analogous to Mobile Safari on the iPhone, namely: it gets way more usage than comparable software on other platforms. That means there's too much potential profit for Navteq to let their data get served for free and, of course, those potentially astronomic costs are just the thing that keep either Apple or Google (or both) from budging.

Navteq map data is served up in other applications (like my personal Windows Mobile fave: Live Search) with turn-by-turn directions, so we're not looking at a technical issue here. I don't know for sure if what what Microsoft is paying Navteq for this map data, but given the relatively few installs of Live Search (but growing -- the software is available on several platforms now, including Symbian and BlackBerry), it's probably on a different order of magnitude than Google Maps on the iPhone.

Oh, and Navteq is now owned by Nokia, who probably isn't too keen on seeing their biggest threat pick up any more killer features.

So fine, Navteq data + Turn-by-Turn within Google Maps looks like a non-starter. What about Tele Atlas Data?

Tele Atlas Map data

Tele Atlas data is certainly capable of creating turn-by-turn directions too -- the thing powers TomTom maps, after all. The story here is likely (and thankfully) less complicated. TomTom owns Tele Atlas, and Tele Atlas is the only viable option for realtime Turn-by-Turn directions within Google Maps. Google Maps is free, TomTom is in the business of selling map software. (Google Maps is sticking with Tele Atlas for the next five years, too, in case you were wondering.)

TomTom wants to sell software on the iPhone, so why on earth would they allow their maps to be used in an on-deck, free piece of software in a way that would keep 95% of their potential customers from buying TomTom?

What Now?

We have "Turn-by-Turn-esque" functionality inside Google Maps now, but it's not anywhere near the level of functionality we need for realtime Turn-by-Turn as you drive. Given that both map providers are owned by companies with vested interests in keeping the iPhone's Google Maps app from having realtime Turn-by-Turn, it's not a situation I expect to see changed anytime soon.

Unless Apple, Google, TomTom/Tele Atlas, and Nokia/NavTeq all sit down and have a nice long chat about APIs, licensing uses, and fees, that is. That's three companies in the business of making competing smartphones, two companies in the business of making competing maps, and, well, a scheduling nightmare to boot. It's certainly possible, but I'm not holding my breath.

So now our hopes for realtime Turn-by-Turn rest on 3rd party software now. Except that the iPhone developer SDK disallows that too:

Applications may not be designed or marketed for real time route guidance; automatic or autonomous control of vehicles or aircraft, or other mechanical devices; dispatch or fleet management; or emergency or life-saving purposes.

We're just going to put some blinders on and assume that Apple will let somebody get around that clause.

Tele Atlas the best chance of getting their maps on the iPhone for Turn-by-Turn in a 3rd party app, however. They already provide map data for TomTom, Google Maps (via the API), TeleNav (and the many carrier-branded versions on other smartphones), and BlackBerry Maps. There's a skill set there that seem able to leverage. Plus, they're not owned by Nokia.

Here's my best guess at what could happen.

  1. Apple allows TomTom to go ahead and sell their software via the App Store. (Tele Atlas-based)
  2. TeleNav creates and provides their subscription-based map software. (Tele Atlas-based)
  3. I'll toss in one very long shot: Microsoft decides to pony up the license fees to Navteq for Live Search (or something similar) on the iPhone. (Navteq-based)

So tell us: Can the four-way mapping negotiations happen? If not, which of those three options do you want? Is there another turn-by-turn turnabout that I missed?