By Kevin Dennehy
Trying to shake off last year’s mapping debacle, Apple recently bought two companies, HopStop and Locationary. The purchases, whose financial details were not disclosed, get Apple rooted once more in the location business; how firmly those roots prove to be, and how well they serve the company against arch-rival Google, time will tell.
Apple has been stockpiling companies and mapping software since last year’s introduction of Apple Maps on iOS devices, which turned out to be a big fiasco. GPS World’s LBS Insider reported extensively on the problems Apple encountered with its mapping software. Some of these problems included sending drivers to a wrong location and direction.
After the mapping software problems were made public, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized for the mapping software’s problems and even suggested that users go to such competitors as Waze, MapQuest and Microsoft’s Bing. The fallout from the Maps debacle was swift. Apple fired Richard Williamson, who oversaw the company’s Maps team, according to Bloomberg. The company put pressure on Apple partner TomTom to update mapping data and consulting with third-party mapping experts.
The fiasco proved how important maps and navigation are to users of mobile phones. Industry experts noted two further points:
- Maps are extremely hard to do, and
- Maps are really important for a major platform to own, rather than rent from Google.
Hopping Forward. The HopStop app provides directions to users in 600 urban areas, with an emphasis on mass transit — real-time transit maps and schedules — as well as pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented guidance.
HopStop’s purchase may be Apple’s answer to Google’s recent purchase of Waze. HopStop traffic data, like Waze, is based on updates from people using the application; that is, crowd-sourced data.
Staying With It. The Locationary acquisition constitutes a further measure to keep current, going beyond the pressure Apple put on partner TomTom. Locationary checks on and seeks to eliminate out-of-date points of interest and business data with a platform that collects and verifies crowd-sourced and other data. It also checks the actual physical location of businesses and other places.
Coming Inside. To top off the company’s location awareness, Apple is even getting into the hotly-contested indoor positioning and navigation space, spending $20 million for Silicon Valley start-up WiFiSLAM in late March. According to published reports, WiFiSLAM can pinpoint a user’s indoor location to within 8 feet, using Wi-Fi. Apple rival Google already has been in the indoor positioning and navigation market, mapping shopping malls, airports and sports venues in several countries.
Google Maps Now Major Apple Feature
Speaking of the strange bedfellows, Google recently rolled out an iOS version of Google Maps for use on the iPad. For the last nine months, iPad users who wanted to use Google Maps have been required to use one designed for the iPhone, according to published reports. Google also updated the iPhone version of Google Maps.
Both the iPhone and iPad mapping software feature live traffic updates during turn-by-turn navigation. The app includes live incident reports, road closure information, construction sites, accident reports and other features. Apparently, Apple users won’t get the rerouting capability that Android folks will get, according to published reports.
Real Power. The cool factor, and one that industry experts believe is the real power of location-based services, is an “explore” function that both Apple and Android have with Google Maps. This proximity feature allows users to find nearby restaurants, shopping areas, gasoline and other sites. Google also introduced a rating system for the iOS application that allows users to rate restaurants and other businesses.
The Google Maps for iOS also has turn-by-turn directions for bicyclists, featuring more than 330,000 miles of bike paths and trails worldwide.
Previous versions of Google Maps, which were designed for the iPad, were removed by Apple last September. Apple, to replace the version, brought out the infamous mapping software that featured many errors.