Apple Gets A Mapmaker. Where Does That Leave Google?

2179435712_3d2a50fb64In case you haven’t had enough location-based news tonight, here’s another very interesting bit. It looks like Apple has very quietly bought an online mapping company, Seth Weintraub of Computerworld reports tonight.

Apple’s purchase of Placebase actually took place this past July, and a founder of a partner company that was using Placebase maps tweeted about it. But it slid under most people’s radars as that was the only news out there about it. But Weintraub dug up Placebase CEO Jaron Waldman’s LinkedIn profile tonight, and sure enough, he is now part of the “Geo Team” at Apple.

Here’s why this is very interesting: It could well signal yet another rift in the relationship between Google and Apple. At the very least, the fact that Apple bought a Google Maps competitor, was probably yet another reason why Eric Schmidt had to step down from Apple’s board of directors (which he did in August). But the bigger picture is that such a purchase could potentially allow Apple to move away from its dependency on Google Maps, which it uses on the iPhone and also its iPhoto computer software.

Obviously, much has been made about Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app, but remember too that they also rejected (or did not approve, whatever) Google’s Latitude app, forcing Google to make a browser-based version. The reason Apple gave for not approving it was that it would confuse users with the built-in Maps application on the iPhone — the one that runs, yes Google Maps.

And Google actually helped Apple build the entire Maps application, aside from just letting them use their mapping data. So this whole episode has been bizarre, to say the least. But it may be over soon with the Placebase purchase.

Or maybe not. It is certainly possible that Apple simply realized the importance of geolocation, especially in the mobile space, and wanted to acquire talent in that field. While Placebase was a competitor to Google Maps, it also was slightly different, focusing on different layers and customizations.

[photo: flickr/Manitoba Historical Maps]