Skobbler to offer free OpenStreetMap API access

Skobbler, a mapping startup based in Germany and Romania, recently announced that it had rolled out a new web-based map based on the crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap project, featuring HTML5 positioning and other new features.

MORE ON OPENSTREETMAP: OpenStreetMap posing surprise threat to Google Maps 

However, the bigger news might be that the company is also planning to offer free tileserver access, meaning that web services can integrate Skobbler's map into other applications and sites. Given the fact that market leader Google Maps has failed to retain customers like Foursquare in the face of API pricing issues, the announcement could provide additional temptation for companies to move to OSM.

Co-founder and CTO Philipp Kandal says that access should be available in September.

"We strongly believe that OpenStreetMap will be the map in the future, like Wikipedia has replaced Encyclopedia Britannica. ... Even Google will struggle heavily to keep up investments [in mapping] because there's just much more open-source people editing the maps than Google can ever hire," he says.

OpenStreetMap, Kandal says, is the only project of its kind that can go head-to-head with corporate maps. Additionally, license costs made OpenStreetMap attractive to the team. The crowdsourced mapping engine allows Skobbler to compete aggressively on price with other map services, he says, while simultaneously providing rich hyper-local data.

EXPERIENCE

Kandal and co-founder Marcus Thielking are both veterans of the digital mapping industry, and the genesis of much of Skobbler's work took place when they were both employed by Navigon - a European GPS maker that was acquired in 2011 by Garmin.

The two founded Skobbler in late 2008, initially using older maps for navigation.

"Essentially, we turned into an app company in 2009, when we launched Skobbler navigation, which was still based on NAVTEQ maps," says Thielking. "We switched to OpenStreetMap pretty early on, in March 2010."

The two say that the company's GeOS platform, currently in private beta and scheduled for general release in early 2013, is the next step in Skobbler's plans to create a new kind of digital map - and the next phase of its budding competition with Google Maps.

"In a nutshell, people who tend to flock to Google Maps because of a lack of feasible alternatives ... these guys should give this a shot," Thielking says.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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