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Summary:

[qi:gigaom_icon_geolocation] Apple purchased digital mapmaker Placebase in July for an undisclosed sum, according to Seth Weintraub at Computerworld. Placebase, which we wrote about last year, is a Google Maps competitor that focuses on adding layers of public and private data to existing maps with an easy-to-use […]

[qi:gigaom_icon_geolocation] Apple purchased digital mapmaker Placebase in July for an undisclosed sum, according to Seth Weintraub at Computerworld. Placebase, which we wrote about last year, is a Google Maps competitor that focuses on adding layers of public and private data to existing maps with an easy-to-use API. One use for the product, called PolicyMap, layers various types of data — like home sales, crime or employment — over maps to help visualize data geographically. It’s big business, and the company was profitable without VC funding. So, why did Apple buy Placebase?

There are many reasons. For starters, it’s increasingly obvious that maps and geo-location are becoming crucial components of any modern operating system. Nokia was the first one to realize this and snapped up companies such as gate5 and Navteq.

Secondly, the acquisition allows Apple to decrease its reliance on former BFF Google. Apple could use Placebase’s technology to replace the Google Maps functionality in the iPhone and iPod touch (and the new tablet, perhaps?) with its an in-house mapping solution. The ongoing legal fight between Apple, Google and the FCC over rejected apps on the iPhone App Store is well-known, as is Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s departure from Apple’s board in August. 

Weintraub claims the Placebase purchase closed in July, which is a curious timeline. Did Schmidt know of Apple’s plans to purchase the company, or was this an instance of him “sitting out” of a board meeting, because it was a place where Apple and Google were possibly competing?

Apple and Google are competing on more and more fronts, and Apple may be looking to cut as many ties with Google as possible in a seemingly belated attempt at keeping the fox out of the henhouse. The highest profile tie at the moment? The Google search box currently sits at the top of every Safari user’s browser window — a search box that likely sends a decently substantial amount of referral funds from Google to Apple. Given Microsoft’s need to expand its search share, it wouldn’t be inconceivable that Apple replaces Google with Bing. As long there is enough “cashback” for Apple!

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  1. Geolocation and mapping are definitely becoming more important (don’t know if it ever wasn’t or if tech just needed to catchup). The problem with replacing Google with Bing is that the quality of Bing search results are still not at par. Furthermore – neither search engines are geared to real-time LBS services on a mobile device. Think there is room for another search engine in the market if it is able to get the Geolocation content can be integrated better?

  2. smart purchase by apple looks like they want to become a US powerhouse when it comes to mobile services by slowly muscling out google and their offerings but finding a replacement for youtube will be tough I guess

  3. What about video? YouTube’s exclusivity on the iPhone is a huge competitive advantage. All videos on the web must be in YouTube to be viewable on the iPhone. I’m sort of glad they haven’t started to support Flash.

    I’d love to see Apple buy Vimeo from IAC and make that the exclusive option. Better yet just support an open format anyone can develop for.

    1. i think you have that backwards. google converted some of youtube from flash (a proprietary format) to h264 (an open format) JUST so that it’s viewable on the iPhone.

  4. Next thing you know, Apple will be expanding into web-search and online advertising programs. Oh dear… We’re in for one heck of a ride!

    1. Apple buys Yahoo!… Oh no you’re right!!!!

  5. Between the Lines mobile edition Thursday, October 1, 2009

    [...] is off the Apple board and the two parties are duking it out over iPhone apps and approvals. GigaOm's Jordan Golson even goes as far to suggest that Apple may use Bing instead of Google in its Safari browser search [...]

  6. Please, please, don’t waste too much space on conspiracy theory and what-if’s!

  7. I highly challenge the assertion that, “It’s big business, and the company was profitable without VC funding.” The company was, in fact, failing and on its last legs. The business model didn’t work, the technology didn’t scale and they were actively looking around for an exit before the whole thing went belly up. Do you even talk to others in the industry before writing this stuff? Resumes from employees of this company have been flying around for many, many months and discussions with employees very clearly indicated that they didn’t have enough customers to survive.

    Why did Apple buy them? They acquired some smart people for cheap. End of story.

  8. Jacob Varghese Thursday, October 1, 2009

    I think this is ultimately less about replacing google maps and more about distinguishing themselves from every other phone that has a google maps app.

    Google maps has become a commodity.

    Overlaying valuable information on top of a map is a distinguishing feature.

  9. love it love it love it
    Google is jumping to telephony and operating systems
    APPLE has semi conductors and now wants mapping application ( bye bye google maps).
    This is exciting for the tech industry.

    The three companies that can define the tech future are Google , Apple and Microsoft ( with support crew from Intel, Cicso)

    Good luck Microsoft.

    And SAMSUNG can copy them all !!!!

  10. Apple 收购数字地图制造商 Placebase,跟 Google 彻底决裂? | 谷奥——探寻谷歌的奥秘 Thursday, October 1, 2009

    [...] GIGAOM 本站文章除注明转载外,均为本站原创编译 [...]

  11. While I am a strong believer in the inevitability of Apple/Google evolving into Frienemies in the months ahead (see: The Chess Masters: Apple versus Google – http://bit.ly/IHPmW), I think this is more a case of Apple adding geolocative DNA to their bench and continuing their innovation around the Maps app, which while powered by Google Maps under the under is nonetheless developed by Apple in terms of look, feel and supported workflows.

  12. More competition for the new Microsoft, Google aka the “don’t be evil” brothers–the better

  13. You know I registered on this site as soon as I read the story. I input my home address and even with a nine digit zip the mapping had my location by more than 15 miles.

    Hopefully if this ever goes to mainstream deployment it will be more fine tuned.

  14. The rift of the summer of ‘09 – discourse and notes Thursday, October 1, 2009

    [...] board. After this acquisition was publicized, the bloggers were quick to comment on the obvious disassociation with Google Maps, and Apple’s intention to replace that popular platform with one that it can control [...]

  15. Johnny Mozzarella Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Helloooo! This is not about replacing Google maps on the iPhone.
    This is about creating a killer app for their TABLET!
    It will trickle down to the iPhone as well but the real mobile information mapping will happen on the tablet platform.

  16. Weblog sortega » Archivo » La compra de Placebase por parte de Apple – Comunicación, usabilidad, diseño e interacción Thursday, October 1, 2009

    [...] por parte de Apple? – faq-mac.com -Apple’s breakup with Google continues – The Loop -So Why Did Apple Buy a Mapping Company? – Gigaom [...]

  17. PolicyMap » Apple, Placebase, Google, PolicyMap? Friday, October 2, 2009

    [...] number of the articles, including this one in GigaOm, reference our http://www.policymap.com site as we are the most substantial application ever built using [...]

  18. Google spamming iPhone Maps with ads? Friday, October 2, 2009

    [...] certainly been much speculation over the future of Google’s iPhone Maps app after it emerged this week that Apple bought mapping company Placebase in July. Throw in the dispute between Google [...]

  19. Top Posts « WordPress.com Friday, October 2, 2009

    [...] So Why Did Apple Buy a Mapping Company? [qi:gigaom_icon_geolocation] Apple (s aapl) purchased digital mapmaker Placebase in July for an undisclosed sum, [...] [...]

  20. Apple je pod svoje okrilje dodal spletno kartografsko podjetje Placebase « Scialni mediji Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    [...] Taka vrsta zemljevidov je zagotovo zaželena pri mnogokaterih spletnih uporabnikih, spletnih straneh in razvijalcih. To dokazuje tudi poslovanje podjetja, ki je bilo ves čas profitabilno in to brez finančnih vložkov tveganega kapitala. Več o Apple-ovih razlogih za nakup podjetja Placebase si preberite na tej povezavi. [...]

  21. What Did Apple Really Say About Location-based Ads? – GigaOM Sunday, February 14, 2010

    [...] that the Core Location API features (which I imagine are based on technology being developed by Placebase, which Apple bought last summer) touted in Apple’s tip don’t seem to have been released yet, and that the last material [...]

  22. What Did Apple Really Say About Location-based Ads? | Geodelic Blog Monday, February 15, 2010

    [...] that the Core Location API features (which I imagine are based on technology being developed by Placebase, which Apple bought last summer) touted in Apple’s tip don’t seem to have been released yet, and that the last material change [...]

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