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Thursday, October 01, 2009, 05:10 am PT (08:10 am ET)

Apple purchased Google Maps competitor Placebase - report

This summer, Apple quietly purchased the worldwide mapping company Placebase — one that competed with Google's own Maps product, featured on the iPhone.

Reports of the purchase of Placebase, maker of Pushpin and openplaces.org, first surfaced in July. They were confirmed this week by ComputerWorld, as the company's former CEO, Jaron Waldman, is now allegedly part of the "Geo Team" at Apple. The Cupertino, Calif., company has never confirmed the acquisition.

In 2008, Placebase was profiled by GigaOm. At the time, a new product called PolicyMap was revealed. Using the PushPin API, PolicyMap would aggregate data on subjects such as demographics, home sales, crime, mortgage lending, school performance and more. The company reportedly earned millions of dollars in revenue and survived without any venture capital funding, successfully competing with Google's free Maps.

"Waldman thought differently," the report said. "He decided to compete with Google and other free mapping services by doing two things: One, by offering customizations and tons of features that integrated private and public data sets in many diverse ways. (He knew it would be a while before Google would get around to offering customization). His other twist was to offer a way to layer commercial and other data sets (such as demographics and crime data) onto the maps using an easy-to-use application programming interface (API)."

Weeks ago, when Google publicly revealed the content of its letter to the FCC in response to a government inquiry, it was discovered that Apple allegedly rejected the Google Latitude Application, because Apple believed the software could replicate the native Maps application included with the iPhone — software also created by Google. Apple said that the new software could "create user confusion" with Google Maps.

In August, Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, stepped down from the Apple Board of Directors. The two companies were continuing to encroach on each others' businesses, and were under investigation from the Federal Trade Commission for a possible violation of antitrust laws through unfair collaboration.

With the latest acquisition, it would appear that Apple could be building its own Google Maps competitor based on the technology found in PolicyMap from Placebase.