Maps are everywhere. It’s almost impossible to experience any organization or place digitally without seeing them pop up. And they’ve become much more than wayfinding solutions; today’s maps include anything from immersive virtual reality experiences to real-time data integrations that are as functional as they are beautiful.

It’s true: we’ve come a long way from those fold-out maps that the explorers of the 17th century used and that prevailed even until a few decades ago. One thing in common (the basic means to get around) establishes a common foundation, but the evolution of mapping over the last century alone has been both drastic and impressive.

Today, maps rule the world. The digital map market is expected to bring in $29 billion in annual global revenue by 2024, more than doubling in value from this year’s predicted total. The reason, according to the researchers:

A significant growth driver for the market is growing adoption of mobile computing devices for navigation, wide adoption of 3D platforms, and advanced technologies for surveying and digital map-making.

In other words, it’s all about new technology. But at the same time, it gets more specific than that. Consider these ten reasons why maps rule the world as we know it today, and why we don’t expect that importance to change (or even stagnate) over the next decade or two.

In higher education, this change is already well on it’s way. Read why interactive maps are the perfect tool for university communications.

1. Technological Possibilities Drive Mapping Adoption

We already touched on it above: the growth of the mapping industry is driven in large part by rapid growth in technological capabilities. That trend extends from the technologies available to build the map itself and gather the necessary data to the technology to view it — those supercomputers we all hold in our hands multiple hours per day.

Through modern technology, we can now build immersive virtual experiences that go far beyond the basic wayfinding needs of previous years. A prospective college student can tour a campus and feel like they’ve actually stepped into their future dorm room. A tourist can preview the view from their hotel before booking it.

It’s not shocking to say that we live in an age of rapidly growing technology that rapidly changes the way we live. The speed with which new inventions find adoption is faster than ever. For a technology-driven industry like mapping, that leads to a seemingly endless stream of new iterations and new opportunities for businesses wanting to leverage them.

2. Audience Expectations are Rising

Great inventions tend to lead to even greater expectations. Mapping experienced nothing short of a revolution when Google Maps released its first version in 2005. Think about what has happened since then. From adding your own location (a precursor to its common use as a navigation system today) to Street View and satellite imagery and real-time traffic data, we’ve come a long way.

The fact that expectations rise alongside these capabilities is only natural. As we see interactive maps, 360-degree photos, and real-time information, we begin to expect more. We long for that ‘next big thing’ that will change the way we think about something. Businesses, governments, and individuals alike are turning to maps to see their expectations satisfied.

We no longer want to ask for directions. We don’t want to have that print-out or fold-out in our laps as we find the doctor’s office. We want a real-time preview of the time it takes us to get there, what it will look like, and what others say about the place we’re going. The ability of modern maps to satisfy all of these needs plays a major role in their increasing dominance.

Read What Lives at the Intersection of SaaS and Virtual Mapping

3. Business Competition is Growing Fierce

At the same time as audience expectations are rising, we see a rise in competition in the industries most reliant on this type of physical data:

These are only a few examples. A mix of technology possibilities that have evened the playing field and a global world in which country barriers are shrinking has led to competition rising in countless industries. Companies in these industries are desperately looking for differentiators. And a digital or indoor map, particularly one that stands out above the direct competition, might be able to accomplish just that.

4. Decisions are Becoming Increasingly Data-Driven

Just as competition is growing fierce, managers and supervisors in governments and businesses alike are looking for ways to optimize their operations. The guesswork of decades past is just that — a relic of history, gone alongside the smokey cigar-filled rooms and whiskey toasts.

In its place is a modern executive landscape that places a premium on analytics and data-driven decision making. In that world, managers rely on complex technology solutions that don’t quite make the decision for them but prepare all the data necessary to form a coherent and high-chance answer.

Mapping can play a decisive role in that decision-making process:

  • Better space planning because you can visualize it before it exists
  • Optimal route planning
  • Better warehouse stacking
  • Finding the right college

All of that is more objective thanks to the vast possibilities that mapping can and does bring.

5. The Need for Instant Gratification is Insatiable

Another reason why digital maps are dominant today has to do with our human psyche. Today, when we enter an unknown space, from a convention center to a shopping mall, we want to be able to access and navigate it with ease. Call it a continuation of the rising expectations theme above: we expect all location data to be instant and at our fingertips.

Instant gratification is becoming an increasing core truth of the way we live our lives. A plurality of respondents to surveys now believe technology has made them more impatient, and that number is rising. Why wait for a great thing if you can have a good thing right now, right this moment?

No more asking for directions in a foreign space. No more having to wait until you get to a new space to see what it looks like. Instead, you have instant navigation, instant assistance, both reliable and without the need for human assistance. Is it a wonder that maps are ruling the world we live in?

6. Logistics are Getting More Complex

The world of logistics is too complex to explore in-depth in this article. That alone says a lot about the state of the industry, which has been transformed through giants like Walmart and Amazon. So much automation, from warehousing to transportation, has led to drastically changing needs on behalf of both managers and everyday employees.

That leads to natural follow-up questions. If humans can use maps to navigate, shouldn’t a forklift be able to do the same thing? Do I really have to run a manual regression analysis to find out the most plausible route to my goal? Couldn’t technology complete these calculations for me, saving time and money for the business?

With the help of maps, it can. The truth is that fully automated warehouses are still in the future. But when they arrive, it will be on the back of comprehensive mapping solutions that allow for optimization of both the space and the AI necessary for navigation. As logistics get more complex, mapping solutions (especially indoor mapping) only rise in importance.

7. Experiences are Becoming More Virtual

Try playing a video game from 20 years ago. While interesting and maybe even still fun, it has little to do with the immersive experiences that you find today, with or without VR integrations. The same is true for travel videos or destination marketing. Once again, rising technology possibilities have led to rising expectations that have given rise to truly virtual experiences.

Today’s online user is not just looking for virtual experience — they’re looking for virtual experiences that they can share with others. Almost 80% of Americans are familiar with VR now, and they’re expecting it integrated into an increasing amount of scenarios. That sounds scary at first but could bring significant opportunities.

Virtual experiences, of course, tend to build on underlying maps. Experiencing a remote space, for work or for play, is impossible without the geodata that stands up and anchors the VR footage. As experiences are becoming more virtual, the need for these underlying mapping foundations will grow alongside them.

8. Data Feeds Enable Deep Integrations

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have noticed one recurring theme: digital maps are becoming increasingly versatile, a core underlying factor in their continuous rise and dominance in the technical space. That only magnifies when you consider the power of real-time data integration possibilities.

We already touched on it in the intro to this article. Real-time data has the potential to transform the way we think about maps. In some ways, it’s already doing just that:

  • Google maps builds routes based on real-time traffic information.
  • Universities show bus timing and locations to students in real-time.
  • Logistics firms track the locations of their fleets for better on-time estimates and adjustments.
  • And much more.

That’s not going to stop. In fact, we’re only scratching the surface of possibilities. Through real-time data feeds and integration, maps can turn into comprehensive, multi-purpose tools in both business and consumer contexts. Better wayfinding than you can imagine, with the secondary feature sets to boot.

9. The Leverage of Open-Source Systems

If you have just one question about why maps are becoming so universally popular, think about the business model. The amazing thing about the mapping community is that it’s not built on various proprietary systems but in many cases one data set that even some of the largest corporations in the world feed from.

We’re talking, of course, about Open Street Maps, which is the data source for many of the digital maps you know today. Companies like Google and Microsoft don’t just use that data. They help to build it, making OSM the most comprehensive geodata set available.

That, in turn, builds serious leverage. It leads to a community of powerful players and academics alike, all invested in growing the concept and driving the industry forward. This corporation-agnostic system, in turn, opens up new possibilities with more power, further contributing to the global domination of digital maps as we know them today.

10. Mapping Needs are Universal

Finally, a simple point: maps are so ubiquitous simply because everyone needs them. Every industry can benefit from a better map, as can every consumer. Recent industry data showed that location intelligence is a business priority for anyone from local governments to telecommunications, retail, and even manufacturing. Meanwhile, Google Apps is among the most-used mobile apps in the entire world.

The takeaway is simple. Everyone wants a map. And if everyone wants a map, all of the above points only get amplified. It’s a spiral that, ultimately, will lead to more innovation, more capabilities, and more use. If that happens, the $29 billion prediction for 2024 is only the beginning. We might just be reaching the tip of the iceberg in this fascinating industry.

Building Maps for the Present and the Future

That you need maps is, at this point, in little doubt. You might even use Google or Apple Maps to navigate to or from work tomorrow. If you do, you’ll join millions of users. And that doesn’t even begin to count the countless corporate and non-street-level mapping solutions businesses and individuals across the globe leverage and appreciate today.

That means you have to get it right. Simply relying on your static map to navigate visitors through your buildings or build out your warehouse is no longer enough. You need to build maps that truly support your business, with multi-functional capabilities designed for your core audiences.

It’s not a simple task, but it’s far from impossible. You might just need help to get started, and that’s where we come in. Our expertise in the mapping and location space could be well-suited for you to jump on the trend that has come to rule the world. Contact us today to start the conversation.