Google’s acquisition of Bangalore-based Where is my Train validates the growing importance of rail travel — and the anxiety among competitors of Google's growing reach into travel.
Google has acquired Sigmoid Labs, a Bangalore-based startup behind Where is my Train, an app that helps users track their trains across India offline without the need for GPS or internet connectivity.
Where is my Train announced the acquisition this week on its homepage: “We created the Where is my Train app with the mission to use technology to improve the lives of millions of Indian train travelers. Over time, we’ve improved the app to make it even more convenient and useful, and we’re thrilled with the response that we’ve gotten from users. The confidence that our users have placed in us is what makes us so excited to think even bigger.
“That’s why we’re excited to share that Sigmoid Labs, the team behind the Where is my Train app, is joining Google. We can think of no better place to help us achieve our mission, and we’re excited to join Google to help bring technology and information into more people’s hands.”
Trains and India are huge opportunities, albeit bewildering, to Google, which is turning to emerging markets as growth of new users stagnate in developed ones.
“My guess is they want to incorporate Where is my Train into Google Maps. Probably Google has a gap in understanding India rail and the 1/8 people [one billion Indians out of eight billion people in the world],” said Udi Sharir, CEO and co-founder of Save a Train, an online platform based in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam that sells train tickets to customers, travel agents and corporate travel agencies, currently covering rail travel in European countries.
“Or may be they believe rail helps the people and want to experiment with the knowledge those guys at Where is my Train have with rail,” he added.
That’s plausible looking at Google’s efforts in India, which is a key market for Google Maps and where several Google Map features were actually first launched, according to Gadget Now Bureau.
Two of these features include smart address search, which shows nearby landmarks if a user doesn’t know the exact location, and a customized home screen which puts key features upfront, not just drive directions or hail a cab, but search for restaurants, temples and shopping centers.
Aside from possibly incorporating Where is my Train into Google Maps, Google could be experimenting with other use cases in India while expanding its search to a huge market, much the way the ride-hailing firms and messaging apps are morphing into everyday super app.
Google Maps should change its name
At the rate it is going, Google Maps should change its name, which no longer reflects its new look and feel.
Already, the app has introduced Explore Nearby, giving users recommendations of nearby restaurants, bars, outlets that do food delivery; things to do, such as visit parks or visit art museums and galleries; shopping, from where to buy groceries to finding a car dealer; and other services including finding hotels to hospitals.
And on Monday, Google Maps also introduced its For You tab, initially launched in a handful markets including the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Japan, to anyone with an Android or iOS device in more than 130 new markets. This is a dedicated section showing trending restaurants and other recommendations based on a user’s history, restaurant reviews and updates from eateries they follow.
Where is my Train claims over 10 million downloads. Moreover, it brings the technology of an app that can function offline by using cell-towers directly without Internet or GPS.
“Though there are several train apps in the market, none of these apps solved this vital travel problem convincingly. This was because most of these solutions were relying on known technologies like Internet or GPS which is not reliable or battery draining during travel,” the company explained.
Google’s possible search for new users and solutions in emerging markets should raise anxiety yet again among travel players that the search engine is relentless in spreading its footprint into the industry. One such player is Expedia, whose CEO Mark Okerstrom has labeled Google as its biggest competitor, saying “we have to be very watchful about what they are doing”.
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Photo credit: Google buys an app that can be used without WiFi, covers rail in India, has over 10 million downloads, what’s not to love? Niharb / Skift