Apple purchases Locationary to make accurate crowd-sourced Maps

Apple [AAPL] has made a significant technology acquisition designed to massively improve its ill-starred Maps service, purchasing Canadian start-up, Locationary.


Big boost for accuracy

Interestingly, Locationary was founded and run by Grant Ritchie who last September published an article in which he talked about five big Maps related issues Apple needed to solve in order to make its service effective. He clearly struck a nerve as he joins Apple with this deal.

Apple's new purchase should improve the accuracy of data used within the Maps service, partly because of Locationary's existing database and partly due to the take over of a solution called Saturn, which enables on-the-fly updating of such data across platforms and services, or, as StreetFight Mag puts it:

"Locationary uses crowdsourcing and a federated data exchange platform called Saturn to collect, merge and continuously verify a massive database of information on local businesses around the world, solving one of location’s biggest problems: out-of-date information."

Apple watchers will recognize that inclusion of inaccurate place and location information within Maps 1.0 generated a lot of criticism. Those paying close attention to the company's efforts within the hybrid Maps/Social space will also look to the recent failure to purchase Waze as circumstantial evidence pointing to the importance of crowdsourced data to the future of the company's mapping services.

Better than Google?

The theory is pretty simple: Maps draws in data from multiple sources, but this data is sometimes inaccurate or conflicting -- so which data sets should be used, and which data elements are the most accurate? Locationary's business focus was to resolve such problems by providing a single stop shop in which data owners could maintain the integrity of their data and contributors could also assess accuracy. In theory this should limit or eradicate such inaccuracies.

GigaOm notes: "Locationary CEO Grant Richie told us a couple years back that the dirty little secret of location-based services, like the ones that Google, Yelp and CitySearch use, is that some of their information is incorrect, based on outdated and inaccurate data. In addition not many of the services — which are powered by companies like Axiom, Localeze and InfoUSA — talk to each other."

As mobile devices proliferate, the data included within a customer's choice of mapping app is becoming increasingly important. Mobile means consumers are far less willing than they used to be to visit a company Website for information, but will open up a page on their mapping app. 

This trend has affected traditional Internet directory/listing services, while also driving traffic to Google and/or Facebook. Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates told NetNewsCheck: “There’s so much information out there that going to a website to get it is kind of old. What you’ve got now is people wanting information to come to them.”

That's the guiding principle of the information you find within Maps, and has future implications for next-generation tourist information, marketing and other online services. There's even implications for retailers seeking to propagate information about their latest deals via the Web, PC and online.

What does this all mean for Maps?

Well, it should mean the shop or service you search for within an area will still be active in that area, that the shop will be open, and will be situated in the place Maps tells you it is located.

This is just the latest in a string of purchases Apple has made in recent years as it works to develop Maps. These include Placebase, C3 and Poly9. More recently (in March) the company acquired WiFiSlam, an indoor location services firm.

One thing's for sure: this purchase confirms the focus Apple has on improving Maps until its service is equal or better than any competing services on other platforms.

The company faces a flood of criticism as it attempts to do so. Those ranged against it know they can point to the failings of Maps 1.0 to undermine the firm's credibility. Despite this Apple has worked hard and consistently to improve its service.

“Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote last September.

With the purchase of Locationary, it seems Cook's promise will be kept.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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