Microsoft Looks To Future With Multimap Acquisition

With the purchase of British online mapping services company Multimap, Microsoft aims to expand its services to provide more applications to the consumer and commercial markets and to surpass rivals Google, Yahoo and Amazon in the online maps services space.

Microsoft will be able to integrate Multimap's location and mapping technology with its existing services, including Virtual Earth, Live Search, Windows Live services, MSN and the aQuantive advertising platform, the company said.

"The addition of Multimap enhances Microsoft's position as a leading provider of mapping and location platform services," Sharon Baylay, general manager of the Online Services Group at Microsoft, said in a statement. "This acquisition will play a significant role in the future growth of our search business and presents a huge opportunity to expand our platform business beyond the U.K. and globally." Multimap will fold in Microsoft's MapPoint Web Service to its service portfolio, Microsoft said.

"MapPoint Web Service supports Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) to enable the integration of location-based services -- such as maps, driving directions and proximity searches -- into applications and business processes," Microsoft said in a statement. "MapPoint Web Service can be easily combined and integrated with other XML-based Web services, making it very straightforward for enterprises to gain the full business value of incorporating location data into their applications and processes."

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Mapping services are gaining more attention as individuals and businesses become increasingly mobile, said one analyst.

"A few years ago, online maps were considered services on their own. Now, these map services are much more interesting as they become mashed up with other commercial or business applications," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbour Solutions, of Gilford, N.H.

For Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft to compete in mapping services with Google, Yahoo and Amazon, it must offer more than standalone mapping services.

"Mapping services become especially important when you combine them with mobile devices where your location can be determined," Gardner said. "Anybody using a mobile device like a cell phone or a Blackberry could get a text message that says, for example, 'Come around the corner and get a muffin for free,' or 'Download this song and get a dollar off an album purchase at our nearby record store.'

"For business-to-business applications, such mapping functions can be valuable for logistics if you are a supplier or a retailer, where the maps service could enrich supply chain applications," Gardner added. "For Microsoft to compete in the consumer or the business side, it is not going to want to mash up with Google Earth."

Jeff Kelisky, CEO of Multimap, said the acquisition should be an incentive to develop new applications. "Partnering with Microsoft gives us a world of new opportunities to build our mapping services into new technologies and applications," Kelisky said in a statement. "Microsoft is in a position to bring even more value to the Multimap service and give people everywhere new, exciting and fun ways to get from point A to point B."

Multimap will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft, as part of the Virtual Earth and Search teams in the Online Services Group. Terms were not disclosed.