There was a lot of buzz yesterday around the not-new, but recently renewed interest in, Placebase‘s – and more specifically Jaron Waldman’s – joining Apple in their “Geo Team”.
Putting aside the question about whether Apple purchased Placebase, it’s more interesting and worthwhile to consider why Apple is interested in pulling in and working with technologists like Jaron that obviously demonstrate the ability to pull together components and build a compelling, unique mapping stack.
Apple technology has increasingly added location capabilities. Address Book, Mail, and iCal all detect addresses and provide links to maps. iPhoto and Aperture understand coordinate tags and can provide maps as well. CoreLocation on the iPhone, and now in Snow Leopard, allow any developer to get the location of the device via a cascading order of geolocation: GPS, Wifi, IP, etc. Apple themselves developed the “Google Maps” iPhone application – just utilizing the Google API for tiles, location and routing.
More recently, Apple has provided for “lost iPhone” tracking via MobileMe. Enterprising uses and developers have used this for friend and family tracking services.
Looking forward, it’s clear that Apple sees the important potential of location to support and augment almost all of their applications and platforms. Like any good business, the less dependent a company can be on third-party’s for core functionality, the better. Therefore, it makes sense that Apple would investigate ways to own and control this key component.
And beyond pure business and strategy, there is a lot to gain by Apple controlling it’s own location and mapping stack. Apple obviously focuses on providing exquisitely crafted experiences. This should permeate through their maps as well. Look at the maps to your local Apple store for an example of how the cartography can fit into the look and feel of the Apple.com store interface. This same customization can exist throughout their product line. Maps applications and API can provide customized interfaces and styling.
And consider that Apple can also build out a MobileMe friend finding and family tracking service. There is now an inherent trust in Apple tools: easy to use, virus free, great for kids. These translate over to trust in sharing my location through my phone to my private family sharing portal.
So in the end, what this signals is a major shift to provide broad, consumer facing compelling geospatial technologies in a well executed interface. Apple is already responsible for enabling location-based services to cross the chasm, and is inducing the broad emergence of augmented reality. It makes perfect sense for them to ensure they control and can craft the entire experience. I’m personally glad they have someone as expert as Jaron on the team.