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Apple Ready to Go Off the Google Map?

Apple Ready to Go Off the Google Map?

Observant watchers of Apple's recent iPad presentation noticed an odd thing about the company's iPhoto demo: It appeared to use data from OpenStreetMaps rather than Google Maps, the resource iOS has used for mapping info since the dawn of the iPhone. Is Apple ready to change course and hike out of Google Map territory?

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
03/08/12 1:55 PM PT

Apple's newest version of iPhoto, as shown yesterday during its announcement about the latest iPad, is using maps from OpenStreetMaps instead of Google Maps for its journals and slideshow features.

Google Maps is still the default source of data for other areas of iOS, but iPhoto maps are now using information that the company generated by using OpenStreetMaps. That organization gathers data from open resources such as GPS devices, government data and local knowledge to put together detailed map information. Anyone can add photographic data to the maps, so it's sometimes referred to as the "Wikipedia of maps."

The new maps appear slightly different than Google Maps in iOS applications. The roads on the new maps have greater detail, and the color scheme is darker than the beige and yellow that Google Maps uses.

Apple isn't the only company to turn to other outlets than Google or Bing for maps. Foursquare also announced last week that it was breaking away from Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMaps. It noted that it was following a trend that other companies such as StreetEasy, Nestoria and Fubra had started before it.

Fubra said one reason it switched was because Google had introduced a clause in its terms of use that stated the company could impose a usage fee after 25,000 user sessions per day.

Apple didn't respond to our requests for comment.

OSM Surprise

OpenStreetMaps was as surprised as anyone when it noticed the switch.

"We're very pleased that Apple is using it, but we didn't know about it before it happened," Stephen Coast, chairman of the OpenStreetMaps Foundation, told MacNewsWorld.

The data that Apple chose to use, though, goes back to 2010. Coast said the company wasn't sure why Apple was using the outdated information, since OpenStreetMaps has more current data.

"We don't really understand why they've chosen to use the data they did," he said.

Coast also noted that Apple hasn't given the proper attribution to the company, and was hoping that would be corrected soon. As of Thursday, he said he hadn't had contact with Apple regarding the matter.

Apple Mapping Out Map Plans

Apple's latest moves in the map landscape might be part of a larger plan to have a greater stake in the online mapping area, a sector in which competitors like Google and Microsoft have heavily invested.

"Apple hasn't been too focused on mapping. Google and Microsoft have always focused more on maps for their applications," Alex Machinis, president of Spatial Point, told MacNewsWorld. "In Apple's case it's been more of a backdrop on the screen and for routing."

Apple seems to be making a change from that practice, though. Starting in 2009, Apple began picking up a few small mapping companies. It bought up Placebase, Poly9 and most recently C3 Technologies, a company that specializes in 3D mapping.

Those smaller companies might not have the muscle that the larger operators like Google and Bing Maps do, but the slow switch away from the powerhouses could indicate Apple may hope to wield more control over its mapping functions and take some pageviews away from competitors.

"They must want control, or want to do things that maybe Google wouldn't allow. They probably have other plans at work," said Machinis.


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