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MAPS.ME is a free offline maps and navigation application for iOS and Android that was first  launched as Maps With Me in 2010 and acquired by Mail.ru last November.

Today, MAPS.ME launched its Walking Directions feature, that allows hikers as well as urban users to find the best way to reach their destination.

According to founder Yury Melnichek, MAPS.ME is the best visualization application for mobile for open location data provided by OpenStreetMap, a crowd-sourced map service. The company claims that in some areas MAPS, ME is more accurate than Google maps, specifically for trails in remote locations and for countries that are not on the internet giant’s priority list for mapping.

As a matter of fact, more people in big cities prefer to walk because of traffic congestions and parking prices, and I can relate to this trend since I am part of it in San Francisco. The traffic has gone crazy for the past two years, due to the tech bubble and I end up walking around downtown for my meetings a lot more than I used to 4 years ago. Before,  I was using walking directions in Maps only in large European cities such as Paris or Berlin, where the majority of inhabitants does not own a car, unlike in the U.S..

Since MAPS.ME relies on the OpenStreetMap community of 2.2 million users who produce 2 million edits per day with an average of 23,000 contributors per month, it seems that a lot of unique data such as footpaths or staircases for example are made visible, unlike in other map services. “MAPS.ME walking routes extend where Google Maps can’t, including footpaths, walking trails and even up staircases, because MAPS.ME data is gathered by its enthusiastic community of contributors,” said Yury Melnichek, Head of Maps Business Unit, Mail.Ru Group

Another key competitive advantage of MAPS.ME is the offline acccess to navigation, thanks to its proprietary compression algorithm that enables easy local storage in the smartphone, according to founder Yury Melnichek.

According to Mail.ru Group MAPS.ME has 25 million downloads to date, and its map source OpenStreetMap (OSM) is created and updated by editors, just like Wikipedia articles.

As of yesterday MAPS.ME is the second most popular mobile map application in the Apple store after the Google services (Google Maps, Waze, Google Earth) and in the top 10 in that category in the Google Play store.

Q&A with Yury Melnichek, founder, MAPS.ME

>> Yury Melnichek, founder & CEO, Maps.me acquired by Mail.ru in November 2014 and now is Head of Maps at Mail.ru

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Yury Melnichek, founder, MAPS.ME, currently Head of Maps at Mail.ru

How and when did you decide start the company behind Maps.me?

It was an easy choice. I needed a map for my travels that works offline, and also Google Maps didn’t have any data for my home country (Belarus) back then. So after leaving Google and traveling for quite a while, I started MAPS.ME.

How Maps.me is different and better than Google Maps? What about Waze?

MAPS.ME works even when there is no Internet connection, since all the data is downloaded on a phone before the first use. Google Maps and Waze are very limited once cell coverage is poor.

Maps.me is not very well known by the mainstream users in the U.S., because Google map is very accurate here, do you think you can make it more popular? 

I think we can do that by launching features that work better than Google. For example, OpenStreetMap data is better suited for pedestrian navigation, and so we are launching walking directions.

As international travel increases, offline becomes more important, and more mainstream users will hear about MAPS.ME. [editor’s note: data roaming is often unavailable or too expensive]

As the main difference between the Google map services (Google Maps, Waze, Google Earth) and Maps.me is the use of open data, how do you see the future of your service compared to Google? Do you think you can efficiently compete against this internet giant?

I strongly believe in open data, that is being constantly reviewed by other people. It not about MAPS.ME alone competing with Google, but about the whole ecosystem of companies around OpenStreetMap. And as the data quality in OpenStreetMap gets better and better, I think it will eventually become the best source of map data, similar to how Wikipedia became the best encyclopedia.

Since the acquisition by Mail.ru Group in November 2014, MAPS.ME is free. Can you share with us the business model, currently and in the future?

We are focused on growing MAPS.ME and OSM community at the moment, in the future we will offer them additional services such as hotel and taxi booking.

Filed in Apple >Cellphones >General >Transportation. Read more about Google, location, location-based, maps.

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