Apple’s mapping puzzles
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.