A few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that no more innovation was possible in the world of online mapping. After all, didn't MapQuest from Time Warner's
Of course, Google
Continuing to push innovation, Google purchased @Last Software this week. The company develops a software tool, made for newbies as well as professionals, called SketchUp, which allows for the creation of 3-D designs. You can create a mockup of a building, for example, and then use those images in a high-end computer-aided-design (CAD) product, such as from Autodesk
So, what does any of this have to do with mapping? Well, @Last Software launched a plug-in for Google Earth, which is available both for Windows and Apple's Mac. Imagine that you want to see how a house would look in a certain setting. With the @Last program, you can design that house on a particular map location. This ability would come in handy for someone making a presentation to a developer as well as to someone just looking to build their dream house.
In fact, SketchUp offers a variety of monetization opportunities. Through Google, users have an easy way to advertise for local contractors and materials if they're designing a house using the program. Thinking even bigger, Google itself could use the software to develop navigation systems or even build games -- say, an alternative to a flight simulator. And Google's extensive mindshare in the mapping world affords it the luxury of being able to sell premium versions of SketchUp. Currently, the company sells the software for $500 per user, which looks like an easy way to soak up high-margin revenues.
But one thing is certain: When it comes to online mapping, Google still has the right stuff. And local search is considered the next big area for the major portals, with the key being a competency in mapping. Google has been fairly visionary on this front -- and most importantly, it's making key investments and acquisitions to push as hard as possible.
Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own shares of companies mentioned in this article.