updated 07:50 am EDT, Thu October 1, 2009
Apple quietly buys map firm Placebase
Apple has stealthily bought an online map firm in what could represent an aid to the iPhone but a split with Google, a search has discovered. A startup company, Placebase, was bought by Apple in July but provided so little attention about the takeover that it wasn't until a check on former CEO Jaron Waldman's LinkedIn profile confirmed the move. Waldman is now part of a "Geo Team" at Apple performing in an unspecified role.
The move hints at a possible shift away from a dependency on Google for location data for the iPhone and apps like iPhoto, though to what extent isn't clear. Placebase was noted for overlaying maps with specialized data, such as population demographics, rather than generating maps themselves. However, much of Google's information for Apple products comes through specific utilities, such as routing or Street View. Apple writes its own software even in the case of the iPhone's Maps utility, and Google's own maps are often generated based on third-party map information.
Apple's insistence on this control has already caused a minor split with Google. The search giant was forced to launch Latitude as a web app as Apple claimed a native iPhone version was too similar to the built-in Maps utility. Google also has a vested interest in refining Latitude, Google Maps and other location utilities both on its own Android platform as well as on smartphones with less restrictive app policies, such as BlackBerries.
Regardless of how deliberate the competition may be, Apple may also be seeking less reliance on Google as a contingency measure. The Federal Trade Commission is still investigating Apple and Google over concerns of possible anti-competitive collusion, and pressure from this as well as the unveiling of Chrome OS helped push Google CEO Eric Schmidt to resign from Apple's Board of Directors in August. A legally imposed barrier between Apple and Google might push the former to seek a replacement for some or all of Google's mapping services.