On July 7th, Fred Lalonde, the founder of openplaces.org announced in a tweet that Apple had bought the company that produced the Maps API that his company used in their software.
Pushpin is the name of the software API that Openplaces uses and it is made by a company called Placebase.
"Apple bought PlaceBase - all hush hush. Pushpin site taken offline. Hyperlocal iPhone?"
Then, nothing for a few months. I had seen the post awhile back but couldn't find anything to back it up - the Internet drew a blank. This week, however, I revisited the information. I decided to do a background check on PlaceBase's founder and CEO, Jaron Waldman.
Turns out, he's no longer founder and CEO of PlaceBase in Los Angeles. He's now part of the "Geo Team" at Apple. -whatever that is.
The former CTO of Placebase is now an engineer at Apple as well.
Yep, Apple bought Placebase. But what are they going to do with this software?
Placebase is similar to Google Maps in that it is a mapping service and has the world mapped out. You can zoom in and out and it has different layers you can superimpose over your mapping data. It does other things better than Google, however. It was featured on GigaOM last year:
Waldman thought differently. 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). The product is called PushPin.
Here's a video of Placebase CEO Jaron Waldman demoing his product at an O'Reilly conference last year.
A good example of the software in use is http://policymap.org. Like Openplaces, Policy Map uses the Pushpin API that Apple purchased as the underlying technology in its mapping product. As you can see there are a dizzying amount of layers involved, much more than Google, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer in their mapping software.
But I'm not so sure Apple wants to be so complex. The reason for purchase might simply be for the maps.
I think Apple wants to free itself from depending on Google for its maps on the iPhone and iPod touch devices. Apple also currently uses Google Maps in iPhoto in the Places feature.
Also, there have been issues lately with Apple's use of Google Maps for its Maps.app iPhone application. Google recently tried to get its own mapping application, Google Latitude, approved at the App Store but Apple said it was too similar to one that already existed. (Google Earth was approved). The FCC got involved and now it is a big mess.
Apple also recently let Google's Eric Schmidt go from their board of directors because Apple and Google were competing on too many fronts, notably Operating Systems. If Apple and Google do end up competing down the road, Apple doesn't want to depend on a competitor for its software (See Microsoft Office for the Mac/Windows).
It may be a smart move for Apple to buy its way out of its dependency on Google now, while it has the chance.
Somehow, I hope that it isn't just maps that Apple is after. I think those big brains in Cupertino can figure out some even cooler things to do with all of that data - perhaps it has something to do with that tablet we've all been hearing about?