Can Apple Finally Quit Google?

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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) wants to kick Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Maps out of the iPhone. This we know.

Years ago, Apple set in motion a plan to boot the default Google Maps app from iOS. Considering the increasingly hostile rivalry on the mobile operating-system front, coupled with Steve Jobs' overt animosity toward Android as a "stolen product," the eventual phasing out of various Google services from iOS devices seems inevitable. Heck, it might even make Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) the default search engine in China soon enough.

The Google Maps app on the iPhone has always pulled backend data from Google while Apple created the actual app interface. The biggest challenge with cutting out Google will be whether Apple can replace its backend data, especially since Apple isn't in the business of collecting local business listings and other information, while that's precisely what Google does best.

Currently, users can search for a local coffee shop or what bus and train routes to take for public transit, among other things. Can Apple get all of this data by itself?

You get what you pay for
Over the years, Apple has made three separate acquisitions related to mapping technology, and we have yet to see the fruit of those purchases.



Estimated Price


2009 Placebase Unknown Data set integration
2010 Poly9 Unknown Geolocation and 3-D mapping
2011 C3 Technologies $267 million 3-D mapping

Let's look at what happens if you toss all three of these companies into an anodized aluminum mixing bowl, add a dash of laser-like focus, and see what comes out the other end.

Placebase was a small online mapping company that was started in 2005, just as Google was ramping up its then-fledgling Maps service. That meant the startup was preparing to step directly into the competitive ring with a massive rival that nearly always offers its products at a price point that's rather hard to beat: free.

The way Placebase would differentiate itself would be to offer customizations and integration features that incorporate data sets in numerous ways. It would then use these private and public data sets and create layers of information on top of maps using an application programming interface, or API, called PushPin.

Google has loads of private data, so the real question is whether Apple can substitute Google's private data with its own in conjunction with public data.

Google Earth isn't without its competitors, and Poly9 Globe was just that. It was a cross-browser, cross-platform 3-D globe before the site was shuttered after the acquisition.

Source: AppleInsider.

Source: AppleInsider.

The company also developed various application programming interfaces, or APIs, for various large corporations such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Apple itself, among others. Poly9 was also involved in map integration with Garmin, allowing users to move data from Garmin devices into its map.

C3 Technologies
The most recent acquisition took place late last year, when Apple acquired C3 Technologies. That company created photo-realistic 3-D models of geographies by using technology that was originally developed for the military. C3 was spun off by Saab in 2007, the Swedish aerospace and defense company that also spawned the car brand.

Source: 9to5Mac. 3-D model of the Las Vegas Strip created by C3 Technologies.

Source: 9to5Mac. 3-D model of the Las Vegas Strip created by C3 Technologies.

The process starts with an aerial flyby, much like Google's own 3-D mapping technology unveiled last week, and then the images are processed and put together using an automated process to create breathtaking 3-D models.

Put it all together
These three acquisitions are being sewn together, and we'll probably see the end result this week, possibly as early as Monday. In my mind, the biggest challenge will be the data. These technologies are awfully pretty, but the backend data drives the functionality, and without it the app would fall flat.

I frequently use the integrated public-transit directions when traveling in various cities, and it would be misguided to sacrifice usability for aesthetics. Apple doesn't usually unveil half-baked products -- other than Siri, that is -- so I'm sure it's worked out all kinks by now.

It's been several years, after all.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Baidu. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Baidu, Microsoft, Google, and Apple and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2012, at 1:31 PM, applefan1 wrote:

    I don't know. But if Apple has bought these three companies and they have been putting more resources into it, could Apple have a better product? Well, I am sure we'll find out, but to me, I don't think that is BIG deal right now for several reasons. 1. We can still use Google Maps. 2. It's a FREE app. 3. We haven't seen what Apple has yet. 4. We haven't compared the two. 5. This isn't the ONLY reason why people are using Apple products.

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