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MapQuest has announced the launch of a mobile site that is optimized for iPhone interfaces. It has a sharp design and is relatively quick to return maps and local search results. It must be made clear, however, that this is a Web app, accessible through the iPhone’s Safari mobile browser, as opposed to a native app that is planted on the phone’s desktop.

There are certain performance, speed and accessibility considerations involving the two classifications. Most important among these factors, in terms of adoption, is accessibility.  The extra steps required to open the browser and navigate to MapQuest will result in a drop-off in usage (though a home screen bookmark can be set up). This is especially true considering that Google Maps is readily available on the iPhone’s home screen.

Google Maps will continue to get the lion’s share of mobile mapping usage on the iPhone because of this positioning. This is also an attractive place for Google to be, considering that iPhone users are heavy data consumers compared with other mobile devices. MapQuest and other providers can remain competitive by launching native apps through the App Store, which compete on feature sets. We expect it will do this soon and this move is a step in that direction.

As mobile mapping increases in overall usage, MapQuest will need to solidify its position as market share leader more meaningfully as a native application on next generation devices like the iPhone and Google Android-based devices.

Google has a clear advantage in mobile mapping for its positioning on both devices. It is also innovating more than any other mobile mapping provider with the integration of GPS and Wi-Fi positioning. This can be seen in its MyLocation feature for Maps on many devices, and its integration with GPS and Skyhook Wireless’ positioning technology on the iPhone.

Features like this will become new standards in mobile mapping and the rules will be different; MapQuest’s positioning as the brand leader for online mapping and directions won’t necessarily carry over to the mobile environment. It will have to innovate for a new form function and it seems like it is trying to begin to do that. We’ll watch its next moves closely.

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