Rohan Verma conceptualised and created MapmyIndia.com, a company that specialises in GPS navigation, online maps and various enterprise solutions, in the summer of 2004, after completing his first year of college at Stanford University, USA. He now leads the marketing operations at MapmyIndia, one of the fastest growing mapping start-ups in the country, and focuses on “introducing innovative and disruptive products to the Indian market.” In this interview to Alokananda Chakraborty, he talks about the major trends in the digital maps landscape in India and the road ahead for MapmyIndia.com
Personal navigation devices (PNDs) are attracting attention as a simplified navigational system. Europe, especially, is seeing rapid growth in demand for these devices. What is the relationship between the PNDs and the conventional built-in car navigational systems?
In the international markets, PNDs were the plug-and-play GPS solutions for car owners who did not want to spend on the in-dash navigation system from the car maker. Functionally, both are touch screen devices which would give you turn by turn voice guidance for navigation, run multimedia, Bluetooth and similar functions. However, an in-dash system is fixed in the car interior, while a PND can be carried around or shared between friends and family.
What are the advantages PNDs offer vis-a-vis embedded systems?
As is the name PND is portable — so you can move it between cars. You may also share it with family and friends. PND is usually more economical to buy and is a plug and play device. There’s no installation process and you can start using it the moment you buy it.
An embedded system must be OE (original equipment) quality if you have to install it after you’ve bought the car. To add value to their offerings by adding innovative services, leading auto companies in India are increasingly deploying embedded in-dash audio visual navigation (AVN) systems in their cars at the factory itself.
As a buyer what are the most important things to look for in a navigation system. How do I decide if an in-dash model or a plug-and-play model is right for me?
Choosing between PNDs versus in-dash systems is a matter of personal preferences and lifestyle. Of late, the PNDs (or carpad tablets) have become smarter to offer media playing, Bluetooth, FM transmission and other rich entertainment capabilities. So if your car already has an AVN, you may want to just plug in a navibox that would support navigation within your AVN.
The in-dash systems and plug-and-play PND devices both have their own segments and advantages. The in-dash systems are well integrated with the car interiors and make a lifestyle statement - providing a seamless navi-tainment experience. If you’re a driving enthusiast and heavily consume media while in the car, and are okay to spend the money — in-dash navigation is what you’d go for.
In India navigation systems are considered “nice-to-have” items by consumers rather than must haves. What is keeping the market from taking off? When will that happen?
One part is product awareness. People still don’t believe navigation can work in India. Our best advantages have been with people who’ve experienced our navigation and seen it work in their friends’ cars. They have been instantly convinced on the utility value of the systems. In the last couple of years — we’ve taken significant leaps in our map data coverage and now are well geared to suit the navigation needs of a user anywhere in the country, within or outside his city.
The PND market is in a fast growth phase right now and we’re fairly aggressive here. In-dash navigation is increasingly becoming an OE fitment in many mid to premium segment cars — and it’s only a matter of a few years when it would become commonplace — even in value segment cars.
Convenience and safety are considered more important now than they were a few years ago — so you don’t want to roll down your windows to ask strangers for directions. A navigation unit, or even a mobile navigation app — then becomes a valuable asset to have.
As an indicator of consumer acceptance and interest in quality navigation, our navigation app on iPhone, MapmyIndia Sygic Mobile Maps, is one of the top grossing applications in India, even at a premium price of $49. We believe the value derived out of navigation over a period of time, far outweighs the investment made. Going forward, we’d see navigation being offered as a data service by telecom operators and that would make quality navigation accessible to millions of mobile users.
Do you think that navigation devices industry in India is lagging due to lack of awareness on the capabilities of the sector? Do you believe it needs concerted campaign/ strategies to garner public and user awareness? What about branding ideas?
I think that the Indian consumers are beginning to get more aware about how navigation and location based services can help in their day to day lives. Of course, the market is rather large and there’s tremendous scope of reaching a wider user base. This will be achieved by awareness campaigns, but needs to be supported by steps helping credibility — quality of data and software, excellent user experience, customer service and support network etc.
Automotive companies have been including the navigation function in their marketing campaigns and the consumer interest is definitely growing.
As part of our initiatives, we work on enabling greater usage of location based services — that can serve as entry points into navigation. People need to get habituated to using apps — to find the nearest ATM, petrol pump, a Chinese restaurant or a movie theatre and getting directions to it.
As more compelling content is available on such apps, like nearby deals and offers, we expect growth in usage of location-based services (LBS) apps and eventually navigation itself. MapmyIndia’s Shownearby application, which is a free application for iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices, has received a tremendous response from the users. We are in process of adding more features like deals, discounts etc. We have tied up with Café Coffee Day to offer daily deals to our user.
Analysts seem to think the number of dedicated navigation systems will decline in the near future. At the same time the number of navigation apps for mobile phones and tablet computers will rise. Please comment.
That’s what the global trends seem to suggest. However, the Indian market is at a rather early stage and there’s still time before PNDs reach their peak and start moving downwards. Currently, the market is growing at a significant pace. In the long term, we do see navigation moving towards the in-dash and mobile platforms for lifestyle and convenience reasons. You’ll see connected features like tracking/ live traffic which utilise telecom networks to offer a richer user experience.
Also content is more important than just hardware for GPS. What’s your view on that?
Absolutely, content is at the core of the user experience. It’s our ownership of the IP for the largest map data repository in India that gives MapmyIndia the lead in the consumer as well as the automotive OEM markets. MapmyIndia’s map version 7.0 offers 5.8 lakh towns and villages on the national or state road network, reaching street level navigation in 4000 cities and house numbers in 36 cities. It is not just the content that gives us the edge but verified content that has been on use by our institutional consumers that includes companies like Coca Cola, Yahoo, Hyundai, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ford, Aircel, the government of India and state governments etc. We are bringing to the retail consumer a package of accurate and rich map data that has been used and endorsed by these leading institutions. Now we have city landscapes, buildings and landmarks showing in 3D as you drive along.