Local Lead: After Uber, Grab Aims to Overtake Google Maps, HERE in Southeast Asia

In 2018, when Uber was dominating the ride-hailing market across the globe, it sold its Southeast Asian business to Grab, recognizing its weak credentials in offering localized services. Fast forward to June 2022, when Grab announced that it would be competing with Google and HERE by launching a map service called GrabMaps. Currently, the GrabMaps service is powering Grab in seven out of the eight countries where it operates. Grab aims to become entirely dependent on GrabMaps by Q3 2022.

Grab initially used mapping solutions from OpenStreetMap (OSM) and HERE to power its location-based services. In 2017, the company started to build GrabMaps for its internal usage as it wanted to serve its customers with more accurate arrival times by providing pinpoint pick-up and drop-off locations to its driver-partners. In this blog, we will try to understand in detail why Grab decided to launch its own map service, its outlook and implications for other map providers such as Google and HERE

Why Grab decided to launch its own map service?

  • Hyper-localization needs: Grab executives have been quite vocal about the maps from Google and HERE being more “car-centric” and less localized with points of interest (POIs), accuracy and updates, especially in the SEA markets where Grab operates. Though OSM is even less accurate, Grab is using it as a base and boasts millions of edits to it to improve the maps for SEA countries.
  • Accuracy: Grab has been struggling since 2016 to provide accurate maps. It tried to depend on and integrate multiple third-party sources from OSM, Google Maps and HERE, but keeping the maps up to date remained a challenge. The edits to POIs and local routes, which had been mostly outsourced before (like to GlobalLogic), had quality issues, which Grab aims to fix with a bigger in-house team.
  • Scale: With all the hyperlocal intelligence, maps data and location-based services, Grab has built a significant scale to serve its core SEA markets better than third-party providers. It is estimated that GrabMaps will reach a billion API calls per month later this year. GrabMaps is also on a mission to increase its POIs to close to 40 million by the end of 2022.
  • Gamification and incentivization: Grab is looking to incentivize the community members. They can earn additional income from their contributions and edits. For example, Grab drivers are estimated to contribute on an average half a million inputs per quarter for map edits, whereas the users contribute to edits running into thousands per quarter. Crowdsourced street-level imagery using KartaCam is another good example of how Grab is trying to build its own maps with a richer set of imagery.
  • Super-app to super-platform: As Grab has become bigger in the last few years with hardly any competition, the near-monopoly status has driven its ambition to scale in multiple ways leveraging its rich location-based data and intelligence. Since it is community-based, the real-time location updates and edits from driver-partners and consumers can help it become more accurate and hyper-localized such as Naver in South Korea or Google in the US or HERE in Europe. It aims to become both a B2C and a B2B platform by building, controlling and managing its own location stack of maps, data and intelligence, and licensing the data to other businesses for different solutions in the region.

What are Grab map service outlook and implications?

The decision to launch GrabMaps as a mapping solution in Southeast Asian countries would directly put Grab in competition with established and legacy mapping solution providers like Google, HERE and TomTom

  • Business: GrabMaps will directly compete with HERE and Google in the eight SEA markets which are home to more than half a billion population and millions of POIs. In the consumer space, this is a direct blow to Google as advertisers will flock to Grab, which will look to position itself as a provider of more localized and accurate map data. In the enterprise space, automotive solutions, particularly embedded navigation, is one area where GrabMaps can challenge the dominance of HERE. The rise in electric vehicle (EV) sales and ADAS in Southeast Asia is a great opportunity for GrabMaps to present hyper-local solutions for EVs, like EV routing and charging point network and availability. In transport and logistics (T&L), enterprises and the public sector, it will directly compete with HERE and attract entities to adopt its highly localized maps that are kept fresh by Grab’s thousands of drivers and users.
  • Scale: It will be important to see with whom Grab partners within the ecosystem. It certainly won’t be Google due to conflicting business models. Grab will be sitting on tons of location intelligence data and still will need to improve its maps in core markets or other markets it decides to enter
  • Costs and pricing: Building and maintaining maps is not easy and is Capex and Opex intensive. But since Grab already has millions of users, businesses and drivers on its platform, whom it can flexibly incentivize and track to improve its maps, its cost concerns should be much less. This should, in turn, allow Grab to initially offer (say for the first two years) very attractive API pricing compared to HERE or Google to win customers for its B2B platform. This will also trigger a price war.
  • Readiness and platform capabilities: While Grab has been successful as an O2O platform and spread out with multiple services to scale the platform opportunities, it is going to be a task to match the capabilities and service-level agreements (SLAs) which HERE currently offers and promises. This would be one of the key differentiators for HERE in terms of its enterprise-grade platform and GrabMaps will take at least two to three years to catch up. This gives a window of opportunity for HERE to improve its hyper-local capabilities in SEA markets and catch up with GrabMaps on mapping intelligence. Partnerships for building map intelligence will be the key for HERE in this region.

Key conclusions

  • Grab recognizes that global players often don’t provide localized solutions, which results in dissatisfaction among the region’s consumers. Therefore, Grab looks to bridge this gap through hyper-local solutions by leveraging its strong presence in the region and understanding the dynamics of the local markets better than global players.
  • By benefitting from its community network and local knowledge of the drivers, Grab offers more accuracy, freshness and coverage than its competitors like Google and HERE.
  • Grab’s goal is to become a double-sided platform while creating, controlling and managing its location data, maps and intelligence and licensing the data for different solutions in the region. For instance, by leveraging its fleet of vehicles, Grab can offer solutions like real-time traffic data to others and can evolve as a connected vehicle data platform like HERE and Wejo.
  • The key challenge Grab will encounter is to attain the same capabilities and SLAs which HERE offers. This would put Grab behind HERE for enterprise-grade solutions. The coming next two to three years will decide who gets to lead the SEA region’s mapping industry.
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