OpenStreetMap App Maker Skobbler Beefs Up Its Offline iOS Maps Play, Draws Acquisition Interest In The Wake Of Waze’s Big Exit

Berlin-based maps and navigation app maker Skobbler, which has its own map engine and combines it with OpenStreetMap (OSM) data to power a range of mapping apps, has updated its iOS global maps app, ForeverMap 2, to add a travel guide with popular location information to further expand the offering. As with the crowd-created OSM data, which Skobbler uses to power its entire range of mapping and sat-nav apps, the travel guide data is crowdsourced — powered by Wikitravel.

It comes at a time when interest in location startups is riding high, after Google’s acquisition of Waze last month.

On iOS Skobbler’s ForeverMap2 competes with Apple’s own native maps offering, and mobile mapping category leader Google Maps’ iOS app. Nokia has also released its Here Maps app for Apple’s platform. Asked how its app performance stacks up against rivals, Skobbler co-founder Marcus Thielking flagged up its online and offline capability as a key differentiator, along with the performance of its map engine. “Our current map engine, our map stack, is really perceived as one of the most performing map stack’s out there,” he said.

ForeverMap 2 app — which is a paid download vs free Google and Nokia Here Maps — has a total user-base of around 300,000, according to Thielking. It costs $2.99 to download, with no additional in-app charges for extra maps or updates, but the company plans to make the app free for a limited time to coincide with the travel guide update.

One reason Skobbler might have to want to bolster user numbers at this junction is that TechCrunch has learned it is being courted as a potential acquisition target. Sources close to the matter confirmed the startup has been approached by several “major tech companies” interested in making an acquisition.

Interest in this latest location-related startup follows Google’s acquisition last month of social-mapping-location data startup Waze — a company that had apparently been courted by a range of tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. After months of acquisition speculation, in which Facebook was especially closely linked with the company, Google swooped in and picked up Waze — reportedly paying $1.1 billion for the Israeli startup. That price-tag has not, however, been officially confirmed by Google or Waze. The startup had 44 million users of its crowdsourced real-time traffic reporting service.

Mapping is an increasingly strategic play as more and more computing activity is mobilised onto smartphones and tablets, shifting away from the static desktop computing world. Having access to high quality location information can be both a user imperative and, increasingly, a strategic business imperative as location-based services and advertising become ever more important. Especially as there are relatively few global mapping companies in play (Google, Navteq, Tele Atlas).

Google of course dominates the mobile mapping space — making it all the more strategically imperative for companies competing directly with Mountain View to ensure they have mapping alternatives. That explains, for instance, Apple’s decision to create its own maps — and remove Google Maps as iOS’ default. Having a viable alternative to Google Maps is a business imperative for Cupertino.

Returning to Skobbler, the startup does not own its own mapping data, being as it uses opens source maps data from OSM. However its ability to structure and make that data accessible, and its proven mapping engine technology — which it has previously claimed are on a par, performance-wise, with Google’s map engine — are evidently still drawing outside interest.

It’s also worth noting that OSM data itself, being crowdsourced so created by pedestrians producing a high level of on-the-ground local detail, has potential advantages in a mobile-centric scenario, vs mapping data that’s more car-centric in its origins. The latter kind of data might be fine for powering an in-car sat-nav but mobile devices live in people’s pockets not in an automobile glove compartment so a map source that can provide pedestrian-oriented detail may be viewed as having potential advantages for enhancing people-centric location services. Certainly when you consider that Waze’s crowdsourced traffic data was so highly prized.

With so few sources of global mapping data for tech companies to license, Skobbler’s ability to marshal a fourth, independent (i.e. open source) crowdsourced supply of global mapping data, may well be viewed as having substantial enough strategic potential to offset the dominance of a category leader like Google.

Add to that, there is the pure tech and skills side to consider — Skobbler’s map engine could be combined another source of mapping data by a buyer. And from an acqui-hire and skills angle, its team of developers have mapping and navigation expertise dating back to 2008 which may also be another potential lure.