Why Apple may talk Apple Maps when it talks iPhone

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] seems set to put a lot of things on the map today, quite literally, with some interesting speculation that the company may replace Google Maps with its own Siri/Voice assistant savvy mapping service, one it has been quietly developing for years.


[ABOVE: The old Tweet which revealed it all in 2009.]

Go-go-Google Maps

Think back, please to when the first rifts between Google and Apple appeared. Recall Google CEO, Eric Schmidt's frequent contention since then that Apple maintains a deal for use of the search engine's mapping service.

Then recall Apple's July 2009 acquisition of Placebase, which offered a far superior mapping experience. Placebase founder Jaron  Waldman is now part of the "Geo" team at Apple.

His colleagues include ex-senior figures from location services company, Inrix and geographic information systems experts ex- of ESRI, among others. The Geo team saw many of its members join Apple in or around 2009, according to LinkedIn.

Then, last year, Apple acquired French-Canadian mapping-software firm Poly9 (which boasted NORAD among its clients), a company which developed APIs which used the assets from other maps.

[ABOVE: This is the kind of thing Placebase could do...two years ago...]

Why iPhone will be the smartest smartphone

What are they doing? You don't have to look much further than a 2009 iPhone Software engineering job to find out:

"We want to take Maps to the next level, rethink how users use Maps and change the way people find things. We want to do this in a seamless, highly interactive and enjoyable way. We've only just started."

We saw similar promises earlier this year. In May Apple advertised for an iOS Maps application developer with a "passion for location-based technologies".

With the expected imminent introduction of voice-based personal assistant services within iOS 5, I believe the time is just about right for the immediate or near future introduction of Apple Maps.

Other than the evidence above, I have no definitive proof of this, but I can line up numerous points that suggest the moment is near.

Why now (or soon) is the time

First: Why should Apple allow Google any kind of access or API code to its new assistant services? The less its one-time ally knows about the engineering inside of its services, the better.

Second: The assistant should integrate tightly with maps. Geographic and location-based data of all kinds will be made available by this service: why would Apple -- with its stated commitments to user privacy -- give access to such information to a company which doesn't really value privacy that much? (Google, in my opinion, is not a friend of privacy).

Third: Offering its sophisticated Placebase-based mapping technologies as a developer API (so if it doesn't appear this week, then lets all look toward WWDC 2012 as the next viable launch point) will kick-start new implementations and possibilities in the third party apps sector, and help create yet another point of difference with Google's Android. That's in case the utterly appalling lack of security protection on Android isn't enough to put you off the cheaper platform.

I raise these points because such moves make sense to me, as Apple introduces its Siri-based voice assistant services. I'm by no means certain either will hit the iOS today, but consider it only a matter of time.

Place your bets, and speak up in comments below.

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.

Also from yesterday's Apple's 'Let's Talk iPhone' event coverage, read:

Why the iPhone 4S critics are wrong, wrong, wrong

Apple: Faster iPhone 4S ships October 14

Apple breaks iCloud October 12

Apple: Free iOS 5 upgrade ships October 12

Apple confirms Mac sales are up, up, up 

Why Apple may talk Apple Maps when it talks iPhone

Apple, Wippit, iTunes Match and the death of Big Music.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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