As Pakistanis, we tend to give directions based on references (“Do Talwar” or “Teen Talwar”). This is known as landmark-based navigation, and we follow this practice because many of the roads and streets in Pakistan do not have formalised names and this is why providing references is an easier way to provide people with directions.
Keeping this in mind, and to improve the overall state of navigation in Pakistan, TPL Corp launched the beta version of their navigation app called TPL Maps on August 14, 2023.
According to Sarwar Ali Khan, CEO, TPL Maps, the app is aimed towards the general public and can be downloaded by them free of cost and that it has been fully developed in Pakistan.
TPL Corp is the parent company of TPL Maps, as well as TPL Trakker, a vehicle tracking entity, and the data that TPL Corp accumulated via TPL Trakker has helped them create TPL Maps.
“In 2002-03, our tracker services clients wanted their locations to be accessible through SMS. At that time, there were no apps available such as Google Maps so we put together a geographic information system team and started collecting data and we accumulated a very large data set which has grown exponentially with time in the process.”
TPL Maps aims to provide users with fuel-economic navigation options, landmark-based navigation rather than one that uses the names of roads, and public transportation-related information; these services are also its USPs which differentiate it from the likes of Google Maps.
Work on TPL Maps began in 2018, and its design and development took around 12 to 14 months to complete. After that, TPL Maps was launched in July 2020, during Covid, and was initially available only on a B2B basis. Sarwar mentions that the TPL group has spent around five million dollars on the app’s development and explains that there were two prerequisites when it came to designing it.
“The first was the infrastructure required to support such an app and the second was accumulating the actual data itself. Since we already had the data [due to TPL Trakker which has been in operation for nearly two decades] we leveraged the data to help us to fast-track the app.” Consequently, TPL Maps has mapped over a million kilometres stretching across Pakistan which have been digitised and include close to eight million points of interest (POIs). Sarwar adds that TPL Maps further collects data through multiple sources, including ‘feet on the ground’, online public resources and by partnering with logistics companies and says that providing and plugging in updates and improvements into the app takes up to two weeks.
As part of its goal to ‘map’ Pakistan, TPL has covered over 385 (out of 400) cities in the country. However, Sarwar acknowledges that there are restrictions in certain areas, the foremost being the security of their staff. For example, areas in cities such as Quetta “face a certain challenge because of security compulsions.”
TPL Maps’ main source of revenue comes from B2B ventures: they license their location-based services to businesses and organisations that integrate them into their own applications or use them for other purposes. “Our primary revenue stream is derived from B2B collaborations, where we license our location-based services to a range of clients. Among our prominent clients are well-known brands such as KFC, Domino’s, Foodpanda, Kravemart, HBL and Faisal Bank.” These location-based services are designed to meet different B2B needs and include Geocoding, Routing and Navigation, Geofencing, Map Embedding and Location Analytics.
When it comes to competition, Sarwar claims that TPL is the only company in Pakistan that is in the navigation business which provides commercial services. “There is no other company in Pakistan that does mapping and navigation while offering these services commercially.”
Regarding the app’s marketing strategy, TPL collaborated with the media and organised a “journalist meetup” to introduce the app. Sarwar adds, “We also explored marketing on LinkedIn and Facebook, primarily due to their extensive reach in the current landscape.” However, Sarwar points out that it’s still too early to gauge the public’s response to the app, as it has been launched for consumers very recently.
Currently, TPL Maps does not provide in-app advertising, because as far as navigation apps are concerned, in-app advertising is rare due to safety issues, especially when users are driving a car or a bike.
In terms of the app’s prospects, Sarwar is optimistic. “I would not be spending this much money if we doubted its potential. Digitisation is inevitable, particularly when you look at models such as Uber and Careem, and therefore, mapping and location services are key enablers. For the time being, we are the sole company operating in an industry with substantial entry hurdles. It’s not like someone can come in tomorrow and decide to make a navigation app.”