SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Digital maps startup Mapbox Inc told Reuters on Tuesday that it has hired a lead product manager from the local search unit of Alphabet Inc’s Google to serve as head of product for maps and search.

Andrew Chen is charged with helping engineers at Mapbox, which licenses maps to software developers, better understand consumer desires, Mapbox Chief Executive Officer Eric Gundersen said.

“Any engineering-heavy company is constantly wanting the perspective of the users, and we’re looking to people who can help illustrate how maps are being used,” Gundersen said.

Mapbox competes with Google, OpenStreetMap and other firms to license maps to software makers. The data have become a bedrock of thousands of mobile apps, with Mapbox customers including social media company Snap Inc, food delivery service DoorDash and credit card giant MasterCard Inc.

Mapbox has less live traffic information and fewer details on “social” places such as bars than Google, Gundersen said.

But Mapbox’s system, an amalgamation of 130 data sources, is appealing to some developers because it allows greater customization, Chen said. Google’s emphasis remains on its consumer Maps app, he said, while Mapbox exclusively focuses on developer tools.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Chen said he spent more than five years at Google overseeing development of Google Maps features including estimated wait times at restaurants and a question-and-answer system for users to learn more about businesses.

SoftBank Vision Fund led a $164 million financing of Mapbox in October.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler



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