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Apple’s mapping puzzles


What will Apple do with its $97.6bn reserves? Maybe their own mapping solution… From couple of years Apple started collecting
pieces of a perfect mapping puzzle.

First piece

First in mid 2009 Cupertino quietly acquired Placebase – Maps API company. Then, founder and CEO of Placebase, Jaron Waldman, started working at Apple on a new “Geo Team”, presumably helping to integrate Placebase mapping technologies into future Apple products. At the time, there was a growing rift between Apple and Google due to Android, resulting in then-CEO Eric Schmidt resigning from Apple’s board. It was believed at the time that PlaceBase might serve as some substitute for Google mapping data used in iOS’s Maps app. Well… it didn’t but Placebase Geo Team worked on something new and in August 2011 they’ve filed a patent of so-called ‘schematic maps’ which is a technology of smart generalization of map data.

Second piece

A year later, Apple acquired another mapping company – Poly9, a Canadian start-up that specialized in connecting mapping data with other data sources to create unique map-based visualizations. Poly9 was mostly known from its Poly9 Globe project which was JavaScript-based 3D globe similar to Google Earth but available on web browsers. Media immediately started to speculate about Apple Earth of Google Earth killer but we didn’t hear nothing about Poly9 from that time.

Third piece

In October 2011 Apple has acquired a third mapping company C3 Technologies – which specializes in spectacular 3D mapping based on SAAB’s military technology – you can read more about it here. In generally it gives different experience than Google Earth because it’s all generated from photorealistic aircraft images and it gives Cupertino data and technology to create something truly mind-blowing (at least from Apple worshipers perspective). This was as well a sign to Nokia and Windows Phone as the Finnish giant is using C3 maps in they’re 3D web maps.

Where is it all going?

How and when Apple will put this technology into iOS users’ hands is still a mystery. But it’s clear that Apple intends to put the pieces of technology it has acquired so far together to do for mapping what it has done for voice control with Siri. Meanwhile despite all rumors, iOS 5 launched in October 2011 is still be default equipped with Google’s mapping service and Apple had recently extended its agreement with Google.

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To pay or not to pay – Google Maps dilemma

Back in 2010 when we were playing with friends doing some mapping mash-ups, I’ve asked one of them “Why are you using Open Street Maps when you have Google Maps for free?”, and he said “What if one day Google starts charging for its Maps…”, I thought – impossible… until October 2011 when Google announced that starting from January 2012 they will start charging for usage of they’re mapping service.

How much?
Sites were offered Google Maps Premium – a paid for service starting from $10,000 a year, which also offers branded maps and custom uses of Google Maps. If they opt not to pay for this, fees are $4 per 1,000 page loads over the 25,000 per day – or  $10 per Street View load over the 10,000 per day.
‘Google Maps will remain free for most users. Only the top 0.35% of sites will be affected by the new pricing structure if they continue to exceed the usage limit of 25,000 map loads per day’ said Google spokesman Sean Carlson. But James Fee Chief Evangelist for WeoGeo don’t agree with that: “Google says it will affect a very small number of users, but I have heard it will touch 30 or 40 percent of people who really depend on maps for their business. It could cost you tens of thousands of dollars a month.”
Who will gain on this change?
Since this announcement starting from the beginning of 2012 many services ditched Google Maps for other products. This can in fact be good for other mapping solutions providers. According to comScore, Google Maps had 65 million users in February 2012, a 16 percent increase from the year before. MapQuest had 35 million hits, a 13 percent decrease. Microsoft’s Bing Maps came in third with 9 million users, an 18 percent increase. OpenStreetMaps didn’t generate much web traffic, but it seems that it’s going to change soon.
Time to say goodbye! 

Starting from February 2012 Foursquare said to give up Google Maps and switched to OpenStreetMap. Apple’s iOS version of iPhoto also gave up Google Maps, turned to the OpenStreetMap. In March Wikipedia has dropped Google Maps for OpenStreetMaps as well. The pricing was “significantly higher than I think anyone anticipated,” said Russell Cook founder and CEO of AllTrails – a big social network for outdoors enthusiasts, that partnered with National Geographic Maps and started moving away from Google. In March TripAdvisor quietly switched from Google Maps to Bing Maps, that also charges for using it’s API but probably it managed to undercut Google by a sufficient margin to make it worth changing.

Give a thing, and take a thing, to wear the Devil’s gold ring.
“Deep down I think the developer community knew that at some point the Google APIs they were using would stop being free,” Russell Cook said, “but I don’t think they ever expected the price gouging. My personal opinion is that Google has every right to charge for the services they are providing, but their recent actions have been very short sighted”. In fact Google was one of few mapping services that offered usage if their data for free. It’s not the only service Google charges for – using Google’s office services at a corporate level is already a paid-for service – but it’s among the first times the site has offered something for nothing then gone back.
The Google Maps API product manager, Thor Mitchell, commented on the change: “We understand that the introduction of these limits may be concerning,” he stated. “However, with continued growth in adoption of the Maps API, we need to secure its long-term future by ensuring that even when used by the highest volume for-profit sites, the service remains viable.”
Conclusions

In fact for most of us it doesn’t change much. For regular users Google Maps will be for free. Now Google has a difficult task to inspire a new class of Maps apps whose businesses aren’t dependent on free data, that might be beneficial for the end-user. Meanwhile the competition on the market will surely work for the favor of all of us… and especially for OpenStreetMaps, whose  founder – Steve Coast has recently landed a job at Microsoft, that is already supporting the OSM project with map data and other resources.


sources:
ReadWriteWeb, TechSpot,

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