It's no secret that Apple has been working on building an alternative maps application for iOS. Once Google really started to make some moves in the mobile space with Android, Apple ramped up acquisitions that all seem to be pointing towards a proprietary maps application that will replace Google Maps on iOS devices. However, there is a lot more to a successful maps application than just navigation, and we're wondering how long it will take Apple to get its own maps up to speed, and by then, if it really makes any difference for the platform.
The story of Apple's Maps project (for simplicity we'll just call it Apple Maps) began just over 2 years ago in July of 2009 when Apple quietly purchased Placebase, which was the company that had created the PushPin API behind the Openplaces project. Both Placebase and Openplaces have essentially disappeared from the web since that acquisition. As of this writing, the Openplaces site couldn't be found, and the main page for Placebase just forwards to an overview of the PushPin API. The founder and CEO of Placebase, Jaron Waldman, has had his position on LinkedIn listed as being part of the Geo Team at Apple since that acquisition.
The PushPin API and other products which Apple bought in that acquisition will likely form the base of Apple Maps, because it includes not only the actual maps of the world, but a surprising array of features which can be added onto the maps. PushPin includes not only the basic features of finding places and adding custom place pins, but also includes options for adding custom widgets and layers to maps. The layers are where a lot of the power of the product had been derived. Much like how we've seen flu maps, and or custom data sets added to Google Maps, PushPin offers a powerful set of tools to create custom data maps. It actually was quite an impressive program, and we wouldn't be surprised if most of the work that Apple has put into it is in simplifying the features and making it more user friendly.
The next piece of the puzzle was Poly9. This was another quiet purchase by Apple, this one made in July of 2010. Poly9 was a Quebec-based startup which had used a number of different open tools including the PushPin API to create a Flash-based Google Earth clone called "Poly9 Globe". Of course, that product has also disappeared from the net since the acquisition. The prevailing theory is that Poly9 was acquired more for the programming team than for the actual product it had created.
The latest piece was C3 Technologies, which Apple apparently purchased last year, but the details of the acquisition were kept so tightly secret that it wasn't until this past week that Apple was uncovered to be the owner of the company. C3 has created some incredibly impressive tech, which allows 3D imaging to be built from traditional 2D maps and images. This is very similar to what Google has been doing with its own Maps product with the new MapsGL features. The video demo of C3's technology is pretty impressive too: