Another month, another sign that Apple is rushing to improve its Maps application before iOS 7 makes its debut this fall.
Apple has acquired a small startup named Embark, according to former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin, who drew her initial information from unnamed sources; Apple later confirmed the deal. Embark creates free mass-transmit maps and schedules for mobile devices running either iOS or Google Android.
It’s a virtual certainty that Embark’s digital assets will end up incorporated into Apple’s Maps platform in some fashion. Building out its mass-transit abilities would certainly put Apple in a better position to compete with Google, which has spent several years building a robust mapping platform with all sorts of navigation features. As Lessin noted, the acquisition would also be good for Embark, which has reportedly “struggled to nail down a business plan” since its 2011 inception.
Apple’s other recent mapping acquisitions include Locationary (an analytics firm with a strong interest in location data) and HopStop (a navigation Website).
Before it built its own platform, Apple relied on Google’s cartographical data for the iOS Maps app. At a certain point, however, the company decided that such a reliance on Google was untenable—probably because the relationship between the two tech titans had imploded into one of bitter rivalry. But Apple’s first homegrown attempt at Maps, released in 2012 along with iOS 6, was a very public failure: the maps featured inaccurate directions and geographical weirdness, all of it reported in loving detail by pretty much every tech blog and Apple fan-site on the planet.
Apple rushed to fix the issue, and CEO Tim Cook offered an apology on the company’s Website. “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers,” he wrote at the time. “With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”
Cook also made the somewhat-shocking suggestion that iOS users rely on rival software until the issues could be fixed. But nearly a year later, that stopgap measure is clearly no longer appropriate—Apple wants its maps users back, and its clearly spending the cash (and building the software) to make that happen.