The Strange Case of M & C Saatchi and Computer Mapping

I have to confess to not being a believer in internet utopia. It’s nice to think that our world is begin developed by wonderful clever young people who are dedicated to create an open world in some sort of geeky way. But our hardware and software heroes at Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter are — as the tech writer Evgeny Morozov reminds us — are part of giant multinational ventures who have to worry as much (if not more) about their institutional investors than about us. We might receive a notionally free service but, of course, our global service providers are looking to sell us advertising and, also in many cases, to sell us to their advertisers.

Sometimes these issues rear their head here as they did recently with the discussion about the new Ordnance Survey App (see the discussion here). The puzzling thing about the OS Map project is that it seemed to deliberately undercut the work of their more innovative partners, such as Viewranger, who sell a fair amount of OS maps. According to those in the industry OS are intending to continue the development copying yet more of the features from their pioneering partners.

The OS is no stranger to controversy not least because it is a public funded organisation that straddles the commercial world. Many have been angered that OS data — created by public funds is not an open public resource. Some argue that OS seem intent with charging us twice, once through the public  purse and again through commercial charges. Just what kind of organisation is the OS? And does its size and public funding effectively mean that it can distort markets, and increasingly important emerging markets at that.

I just found the whole OS Mobile App thing a little confusing. My main concern that this would not be part of a core business and that those who bought their Smartphone apps this way might find the service is not properly supported or developed over time. But my eyes have been opened by a chance result of a web search.

The Ordnance Survey IOS App was developed by M & C Saatchi’s Mobile division, Saatchi Mobile. ( You can read about this here and on Saatchi Mobile’s own site. M & C refers to Maurice and Charles Saatchi  and MC Saatchi is an international advertising business (Saatchi and Saatchi still exists as an independent business).

Saatchi is, of course, an advertising and marketing company. Their main interest is in generating income through advertising and Saatchi Mobile seems to exist to drive advertising revenue for them and their clients over mobile platforms.

So, is this simply another variant of the free internet/mobile service being funded through advertising revenue? Well not not really and here is the issue. The OS App is free but users still have to pay commercial prices for their apps. The OS App has been popular and the company already has a decent user base. So while the OS is generating a lot of new income from mobile map sales can it not simply rely on this to finance its mobile offering?

It would be no surprise if Saatchi’s tactics are to drive advertising and marketing sales through the OS map, after all this is what the company exists to do. How will this work? Well, perhaps those who purchase maps and tiles for, say, the Lake District will be presented with adds for Cumbrian pubs, restaurants and other businesses? Maybe, train operators will be accessing the infrastructure to urge you to take the train — it’s a fair bet you will be interested in travelling to the Lake District if you’ve just bought Lake District Map. And so it goes.

As a consumer I regularly have the choice between choosing a free service that is funded by advertising or by purchasing a Pro version which switches off those ads. Are the OS about to launch a third option, an app which you have to pay commercial prices to use and which then also bombards you with advertising?

Personally, I find all of this quite worrying. I genuinely don’t like the idea of the OS using its monopoly position (for that is what it will become very quickly) to simply suck in more money. Perhaps, the OS long term business plans depend on the generation of an increasing percentage of their income from sales and a reducing reliance on the public purse for their core activities but I don’t know that. And anyway, do we really want a commercially drive Ordnance Survey.

But I suspect the people that may loose the most may be those punters that have bought the app. If it becomes difficult to generate funds through commercial advertising will Saatchi Mobile stick around? Will the app continue to be supported over time let alone be developed? We already have a problem of some computer app companies offering mapping that is well out of date and we already have mapping software companies that very rarely, of ever, seem to offer updates to their applications.

Is this a positive move or one which could become bad news for all of us?

What does the team think?


  1. jarofgreen says:

    “It would be no surprise if Saatchi’s tactics are to drive advertising and marketing sales through the OS map, after all this is what the company exists to do.” Flawed assumption: it’s also entirely possible they have just build up expertise in mobile app development and so OS contracted them to do the work. Probably Saatchi has no direct financial interest in whether the app is a success, they will just care that OS carries on paying them for work done under their contract.

    I also honestly think your analysis that the OS app will undercut it’s competitors and become a monopoly is also far to simplistic. Maybe, but I note in the official app you still have to pay for detailed mapping so actually the reality and what this will mean in the long run is more complex than you discuss.

    The situation with Ordnance Survey, public/private money and Open Data is very interesting tho, and worth looking into more.

    • My point is that it is a monopoly in the terms of monopoly regulafion. As you say, it is interesting re. Open data. The business plan of OS is fascinating. Personally, I don’t think this arrangement is going to serve the public or customer well!

  2. Well, they’re a long way off undercutting Viewranger, at least for the 1:50K maps, which cost roughly 10p for a 10x10k square (assuming you buy a £15 voucher, which I reckon is the sensible way to go) , as opposed to Mapfinder’s 69p. With the 1:25K it seems closer, though. I think that’s the Steve Jobs tax at work, as 69p is the minimum app store charge.

    The Saatchi thing is interesting – but only because it confirms that the app has not been developed in-house. This means that for every little feature that needs adding in the future, OS probably need to go back and renegotiate with Saatchi. You *can* get good software this way, but it’s not the way to stay in touch with your competitors in a fast moving market.

    I don’t think the “advertising” link is relevant. OS seem interested in pushing their mapping SDK as an alternative to iOS’s terrifyingly bad built-in mapping SDK. But as Apple know to their cost, having the raw data is just a tiny part of the problem,

    I’m one of the 40,000 who downloaded it – but I haven’t bought any maps for it, and don’t intend to. First off, there’s no Android version (Routebuddy sadly comes unstuck here too). Second, it’s incredibly basic, missing most of the features you’d expect for professional outdoor navigation software.

    So commercially and technically, I don’t think it’s a threat yet to the established players, but I would definitely be wary of what OS decide to do with it in the longer term.

    My wish list for a computer mapping system is pretty simple, but nobody has so far delivered it: Buy and Download OS and Harveys/BMC maps to PC for route planning, then export maps and routes to a choice of mobile device for ‘live’ use. Viewranger have great mobile support, but their head in the sand over PC/Mac apps. RouteBuddy stick their head in the sand over Android. And Mapyx have a great PC app, but no mobile strategy whatsoever. It’s a mess.

    Disclosure :I use Mapyx on my PC, and Viewranger on Tablets/phone. My total spend on digital maps over past few years is probably ~£100 of my own money.

    • We shall see about the advertising Roddy. If the OS Are interested in selling maps there is no problem at the moment! Saatchi Mobile is not simply an App developer,

      We are in interesting times. Developers can opt to go web only – Viewranger – or concentrate on the power of desktop and an export strategy as you suggested.

      These specialist companies are small and the margins they work with slim. My main complaint about OS entering the market is that they will erode the margins of those who are genuinely innovating and ultimately that will not be a good thing for us.

      Forget the stat if 40,000 downloading the map, that in itself is earth meaningless; I have downloaded it myself. However, this is not a PR exercise – OS will want to be selling maps.

      It is possible to get frustrated about the lack of innovation from the leading players over the last few years. Perhaps the industry needs a shake-up – it certainly needs something of a kick up the backside. But is a government agency – subsidised by the tax payer – really the agency to do this?

      If you talk to the industry you will quickly realise that they take these issues seriously and that they do see this as a threat.

      The development time for small companies to move forward is tight enough without more difficulties. That being said some are continued to develop with, for example, Routebuddy choosing to become a true cross platform option. Interestingly, you say RB have chosen to ignore Android – I don’t believe they will ignore it as their cross platform objectives seem genuine enough.

      • jarofgreen says:

        No time for a full reply now, just wanted to point out that in the link I posted before OS explicitly say they are working on an Android version.

    • Roddy, just re- reading the end of your post and your ideal.

      You can use Harvey 1:40 on Routebuddy from the RB store, export as either .klm or .gpx for importing into anything that will take them. Possible now?

      • @andy – yes, I saw that, and it’s great news for RB users and a good step forward for Harveys. But until RB works on my phone it won’t be any use to me..

    • Roddy,

      Just noticed your comment: ‘RouteBuddy stick their head in the sand over Android.’

      Actually there’s a lot more to this than you may think, and really worthy of a new topic here, or on our forum; In a few words – we’ve been very cautious regarding entry onto the Android market for four main reasons:
      1) We have no intention of putting ourselves into serious debt, a damaging problem that our competitors will have to contend with.

      2) Android is a morass.

      3) I’m not so sure if Android has a future anymore, not in the mainstream anyway.
      (And this could cost anyone who’s developed for Android quite dearly. – As well as those who purchased Android phones.)

      4) The 80/20 rule doesn’t apply to Android customers.

      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      – As far as your opinion ‘that Viewranger have their head in the sand over PC/Mac apps’ you are assuming that a desktop app is easy and quick to create, it isn’t, and it takes a very long time to get as far as RouteBuddy software has. It’s also expensive to engineer. Viewranger chose web maps, they’re far cheaper to create – but limited and slow – and anyone can do it, therein lies the rub).

      • Neil,

        Thanks for the reply. I understand your caution – Software development is my bread and butter, and we’ve been able to avoid mobile applications entirely so far.

        I’m disappointed that you won’t be developing an Android app, as I feel it’s the one missing link in your product. I’m aware of the problems, but you’re still ignoring a huge potential market. I’d love to be your customer (despite the -in my opinion- unwarranted FUD you’re trying to cast over Android’s future), but I can’t: I’m not realistically going to switch phones just to run one app.

        And, this brings me to another bete noir: map portability! The current model of free software, but paid maps locked to the app disheartens me. I’d much rather pay for the app (good software costs money, and deserves it) and then pay for the maps, which I could then transfer to different vendors if required. that would alleviate the problem of each vendor needing to support every possible platform.

        I appreciate this is probably a data licensing issue, and that I’d realistically end up paying the same (or more) by having one set of maps but two different bits of software, But map purchases lock you into a software vendor, and when that vendor fails to continue to support their product, there’s a strong reluctance to invest in new maps from a different vendor in case the scenario is repeated.

        • No FUD Roddy, I promise you! 🙂

          Who would you say is the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer?

          Anyone other than Samsung?

          – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

          • Well, Samsung make the *largest* smartphone…

            Really, no idea. Apple? Google? Foxconn? It all depends on how you define “largest”, “smartphone” and “manufacturer”, and over what timespan 😉

            But from my experience in the UK, I do see a more people on the hills with Android phones than iPhone. In business meetings, that’s usually reversed. I guess partly because rugged and/or water-resistant android phones are available, and partly because if you trash your Android phone it’s usually cheaper to replace. I had no qualms about lugging a Nexus 7 on a wild camp once, but my iPad stays at home.

            I’m still curious why you think Android may have no “future”. I think both iOS and Android are in for the long term. Windows and RIM : too early to say, but choice is good for consumers. But it’s bad news from the perspective of smaller developers who have fragmented markets and limited resources.

          • I’m sure Android has a future but the fragmentation of the platform is a real problem. But I don’t understand Neil’s comments either. Are you saying that complicated and complex software becomes just too difficult to write on android ?

          • I noticed a certain tension in the IT press following the samsung launch of the new phone mainly because they appeared not to mention Google or Android once. More than one commentator has speculated that Samsung wants use Android as the base to build an increasingly individual platform a they look at Apple’s profitability.

            I presume this is what Neil is hinting at — could this mean that developers have to spend an increasing amount of time customising for various implementations of the OS?

            I’ve read some stuff recently about Apple Map’s SDK being easier to use and more powerful than the Google equivalent. Of course Google will keep their lead on search but I don’t think any of us should ignore the need for innovative, niche, companies to worry about their development costs.

            In my darkest moments here I fear a real car crash. If we are talking about the 21 century equivalent of hard physical infrastructure we might just be repeating the mistakes of the past. Really big time!

        • Roddy/Neil,

          Phil Sorrell has some interesting ideas regarding the portability of map data and I might try and re-iterate these if I can, but it would be better if Phil did this. However, the only people who have the answer to that is the OS. I’m told that some other national agencies have far more realistic licensing systems.

        • No, I do think that Android has a future; Nor am I saying that RouteBuddy will ignore Android.

          However, given the fact that Samsung is the largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world then I don’t think that Android is the right business model for them.

          Safer to spend your monies on iOS for now? Maybe.

          But this is now off-topic!

          – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  3. As my good friend from West Yorkshire often says, “they’re all after your money”.

    I noticed your little borrowing from Kurt Vonnegut.

Write in the box and the login details will suddenly appear!