Amazon, Microsoft-led group shares data for open alternative to Google Maps

Overture's map dataset could help any app maker get accurate locations.

Oscar Wong via Getty Images

The Overture Maps Foundation, a group founded by Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and TomTom, has released an initial open dataset that will help developers build mapping apps and other location-based tools. The "alpha" set includes worldwide info for over 59 million places, 780 million unique buildings, road data from OpenStreetMap and borders.

The map layers are packaged in a recently-launched Overture map format that's meant to be standardized and interoperable between platforms. The group is mainly sharing the data at this stage to get public feedback, rather than to support complete products.

The foundation was formed in December last year by a range of companies that include geospatial and mapping firms in addition to tech giants. While open map data isn't a new concept, Overture believes the collective effort is necessary to deliver accurate, up-to-date info that's no longer practical for any one organization to provide. Ideally, a newcomer won't have to worry about supplying outdated or incomplete directions.

Overture is quick to warn that there's still a lot of work left before its material is truly ready. Upcoming releases will include more open data, greater interoperability and the use of a stable ID system that will help map builders consistently add content. You might not see apps relying much (if at all) on the alpha dataset, but it serves as a starting point that gives app creators an idea of what's possible.

Google has historically dominated the mobile navigation app market, with Google Maps and Waze together claiming a clear majority of use in recent years. Apple Maps, meanwhile, tends to get nearly all the remaining share. There's not much room for challengers, and they normally need massive resources just to be competitive. Overture's open data could make it much easier to produce viable alternatives, even if they're unlikely to unseat Apple or Google any time soon.

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