Apple’s Latest Acquisition Suggests More Mapping Changes Ahead


Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has acquired yet another mapping app company in a purchase that suggests that the iPhone maker is still working on revamping its own native mapping app. According to unnamed sources cited by TechCrunch, Apple has acquired Spotsetter, a mapping app that combines social network data with a maps interface to create a unique, personalized maps experience for users.

As noted by TechCrunch, Spotsetter works by gleaning information from multiple social media and review sites. Users can then access maps that have been enhanced with personalized social network data related to specific search words. For example, a search for coffee might present a user with a map of coffeehouses with highlighted locations that have been recommended by friends.

The sources noted that the deal appeared to be driven by Apple’s desire to acquire Spotsetter’s proprietary social maps algorithm, as well as the company’s two founders, Stephen Tse and Johnny Lee. Although the financial terms of the Spotsetter purchase were not disclosed, TechCrunch’s sources reported that “investors are happy” with the deal. While Spotsetter did not officially announce that it had been acquired by Apple, the company did post a farewell message on its official blog. “With fondest emotions, I’m announcing that we are closing down Spotsetter app,” wrote Johnny [Lee]. “We still have big dreams for personalized search for places and look forward to seeing great progress in this area.”

Interestingly, there are indications that Spotsetter could eventually find its way to the iWatch, Apple’s long-rumored wrist-worn wearable tech device. In a post on the company’s official blog, Spotsetter stated that it is “bullish on wearables” and predicted that users will “migrate from mobile to wearables when looking for places.”

Although a wearable tech device would appear to be an ideal platform for a social network data-enhanced mapping app, it should be noted that the latest iWatch rumors suggest that the device will primarily have a health and fitness focus. According to unnamed industry sources cited by Nikkei, Apple’s iWatch will collect health-related data for the company’s recently unveiled HealthKit data repository and associated Health app.

One of Spotsetter’s founders — Stephen Tse — previously worked as an engineer on Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Maps, Apple’s primary rival in the mobile mapping app business. Apple Maps got off to a rough start when it made its debut as part of iOS 6 in September 2012. The app’s launch was marred by various glitches, including mislabeled locations and embarrassingly incorrect directions. Apple CEO Tim Cook eventually took the unusual step of apologizing for the problematic app and senior vice president of iOS software Scott Forstall left the company in the aftermath.

However, since then, Apple has been snapping mapping-related companies in an effort to bolster its mapping team and give Apple Maps a competitive edge over more well established rivals like Google. Early last year, Apple kicked off its mapping app buying spree by purchasing indoor-GPS company WifiSLAM, a startup with a technology that that uses Wi-Fi signals to locate a mobile device user’s location indoors. Several more mapping company acquisitions soon followed, including location data company Locationary, mass transit navigation apps HopStop and Embark, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data company BroadMap. More recently, Apple hired Philip Stanger, the CEO and cofounder of indoor positioning company Wifarer, reports TechCrunch. However, the social network data aspects of Spotsetter could give a future iteration of Apple Maps a truly unique feature.

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