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Apple Buys Mapsense, As Digital Mapping Service Consolidation Heats Up

The two-year-old startup is the latest addition to the Apple Maps team, just in time for the IOS 9 integration.

Mapsense's Erez Cohen
Mapsense’s Erez Cohen

Apple has acquired geo-data visualization provider Mapsense, a two-year-old startup that still had most of its products in beta, for between $25- and $30 million, according to a report by Re/code’s Mark Bergen and Dawn Chmielewski, citing anonymous sources.

The purchase comes amid a number of other high-profile deals for interactive mapping data services, such as Uber buying GIS pioneer deCarta and Nokia’s sale of its HERE location services product to a consortium of German automakers for $3 billion last month.

Despite its relatively short existence, Mapsense has achieved a high level of respect and attention since it was founded by CEO Erez Cohen in 2013. At the time, Cohen was engineer at a company called Palantir, a data analytics company. He formed Mapsense after sensing a lucrative need for an entity to help “make sense” of the proliferation of location data and the increasing importance placed on that information by major companies.

The San Francisco-based company has grown from 2 people in 2013 to 14 now.  It has a very strong engineering component, with 11 of those 14 staffers serving on the engineering side from university programs such as Berkeley, Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, and MIT, with backgrounds at companies like Google, as well as Apple.

“Uber generates the same amount of data in an hour that Census does in years,” Cohen told GeoMarketing in July. “The goal of our company is to build the tech to visualize those huge amounts of location data.”

Apple’s Map Improvement Plan

Apple Maps has certainly improved a great deal in Mapsense’s lifetime. But to compete with the dominant Google and the resurgence of Verizon AOL’s Mapquest, it needs to go further. The Apple Maps unit started rebuilding its location services functions with the purchases of mapping companies Broadmap and Embark in early 2013. Through the spring and summer of that year, Apple acquired indoor navigation provider WiFiSlam, as well as crowdsourced geo-data platform Locationary, and then HopStop, the transit information app that is shutting down as an independent property next month.

Ever since those previous acquisitions, Apple Maps has gotten better reviews, especially with the full release of today’s update of IOS 9, which now features public transportation and “deep linking” of location information across the mobile web to the App Store’s library for users.

On the business side, Apple has been busy with Maps Connect and has added new features to make it faster for businesses to update their contact and location data. For instance, a business with multiple outlets can now upload a file with all of its locations, instead of adding them one-by-one.

In addition, Apple has, in its low-profile way, sought out help from outside companies. Maps now comes with reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com, along with photos from Yelp, which can help a business provide more information.

Marc Prioleau
Marc Prioleau

While Apple Map users will appreciate the new transit directions — including subway entrances in “flyover mode” — and features like “Nearby,” which is similar to what Google has done with its micro-moments, giving its business partners curated results for search queries asking for something “near me,” there is also a great deal more service for global marketers to appreciate.

Marc Prioleau, the managing director of location-based services consultancy Prioleau Advisors, called the Mapsense acquisition an “interesting buy” for Apple.

“Mapsense has built a very nice product for analysis and visualization of very large data sets,” Prioleau told GeoMarketing. “They worked with many types of data but were emphasizing real-time location data as might be streaming from mobile devices, sensors or vehicles. Their application was primarily B2B; helping companies understand their geospatial data.  Assuming that Apple is not planning to launch enterprise grade B2B services, a possibility is that Apple’s would use the technology in the area of real time data processing, whether for traffic, user generated content or an analytics products to support mobile advertising.

“Mapsense has a small but very good team working on a technology that is very interesting to Apple,” Prioleau added. “Almost all of Apple’s geospatial acquisitions have fit that model. They buy teams with a new technology that can be integrated into their larger geospatial assets.”

Mapsense's Michael Cottle
Mapsense’s Michael Cottle

Mapsense Is Now ‘Map Team’

Like the variety of other items Apple has added to its operating system over the years, it looks like the Mapsense brand will fade away. Mike Cottle, the location marketing services veteran who was hired as VP of Sales in July, now lists his LinkedIn profile as being on “Map Team.”

Even before bringing in Cottle, Mapsense had already attracted some high profile users, including open source navigation software provider OpenStreetMap and location-based marketer Thinknear.

“Mapsense helps Thinknear create analytic tools that are very valuable to our clients,” Lucas Dickey, VP of Product at Thinknear, told us this summer. “The advertising industry has moved toward data driven analysis to deliver value and demonstrate concrete results in advertising campaigns. Mapsense has provided a tool to make campaigns more efficient while supporting our proof of ROI.”

The appeal Mapsense has made to other companies is based on the premise that other geographic information systems are not simple and easy to use. Therefore, as these services are expected to meet the demands of marketers, they are largely unable to keep up with the thousands of new smartphones and cloud-based, Internet of Things devices being introduced into the market on a daily basis. In a very short time, Mapsense has successfully made the case that its own cloud-based system can sort through billions of points of data easily and make them accessible to experts and location neophytes alike.

Rather than relying on static images and graphs, Mapsense provides a dynamic tiled map that can be easily manipulated and updated as users are looking at it. The information displayed uses data culled from several different sources, such as Twitter, the US Census, global earthquake data, world airports, and urban crime data, allowing for cross-referencing and zeroing in on certain demographics.

With all that promise, Mapsense was already looking to several goals this year. In an interview with GeoMarketing this summer, Cottle talked about expanding “our awareness not just in those markets but in the developer community, so we are going to be looking into some SEO strategies to drive more awareness and demand and drive more developers to use our tech. We’ve got a lot of rich prospects right now, probably more than we can handle. We definitely want to start to create more demand and respond to that demand.”

At that point, Cohen added, “Product-wise, we are going to focus more around location analytics. We are starting to combine lots of interesting data, some open source data some closed source and to give developers and people generating that location data the tools to sort of segment their audience and we are definitely structuring our functionality around that.”