Apple Acquires Embark, Another Mapping App With Transit Information

Apple has acquired yet another transit mapping application reports Jessica Lessin, this time it’s Embark, a Silicon Valley-based startup that builds apps for different cities to provide information about routes and stops. This acquisition follows the purchase of HopStop, another app that offers transit directions to users.

HopStop and Embark had different takes on the transit problem; HopStop orvides walking, taxi and bike directions in addition to mass transit routes and maps. Embark’s strategy was to spread out its transit apps, delivering one for each market it serves, which included major cities in the U.S. including New York, and other spots around the world to total around a dozen markets.

Embark had gained significant traction from Apple’s decision to get rid of transit directions built in to iOS with the launch of iOS 6; it saw 100,000 downloads in just a few weeks after the release, representing massive growth, and lots more trips planned. Apple’s Maps app itself directed much of that newfound traffic to Embark, since it came up as a top suggested app when users tried to search for transit directions in Apple’s Maps.

The success of Embark following Apple’s decision to ditch Google made it a strong target for acquisition now that the company appears to be interested in bringing back transit directions to the native Maps app itself, based on its HopStop acquisition. For its part, Apple says it simply acquires smaller companies from time to time and isn’t going to offer any further explanation, in a confirmation provided to Lessin.

In an interview I conducted back in September of last year, David Hodge of Embark said that getting really good transit results depended on focusing on one location at a time.

“What we’ve found is to get really good transit results, what you need is you need to be able to focus on a particular city and really make sure you get down into the details of ‘How fast do New Yorkers walk,’ for example,” he said. “You need to do a lot of work on data, you need to clean the results, you need to listen to your users, and there’s a lot of UX and design challenges that go into it.”

Hodge maintained that what Apple had before with Google transit directions worked “pretty well,” but that it was not particularly good in any place in particular, and offered instead that approaches taken by Embark would end up providing better directions despite Google’s absence from the platform. “So for example, when Apple originally announced Google transit on the iPhone, what initially happened was that our downloads doubled,” Hodge said, maintaining that while Google transit brought the concept to the fore of people’s minds, Embark’s careful, tuned approach complete with things like offline route planning ended up being more appealing to actual commuters.