Placebase Buy Puts Apple in Mobile Apps Arms Race with Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-01

The rift between Google and Apple may be growing greater than we realize amid the revelation that Apple acquired Web map software maker Placebase in July.

Placebase made Pushpin, an API used to layer commercial and other data sets, such as demographics and crime data, onto maps. In that respect, it competes with Google Maps, which Apple uses for its world-beating iPhone smartphone.

With no clear indication that Apple is dropping Google Maps in favor of the Pushpin technology, the acquisition might not be so suspect if Google and Apple didn't have a freshly frosty bent to their relationship.

Apple kept Google Voice out of its iPhone App Store, prompting a federal inquiry. Apple also rejected an early version of Google Latitude because it was native to the iPhone.

Google created a Web application version of Latitude for the iPhone and is working on a Web application to enable Google Voice to run on the iPhone. Google CEO Eric Schmidt, once proud of his relation to Apple, stepped down from Apple's board.

These events underscore the increasingly contentious relationship between Google and Apple, once brothers in arms against common foe Microsoft. Apple is promoting its App Store as the place to go for iPhone software, while Google is hawking Android Market for multiple Android-based phones. The competitive circle is clear.

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle told eWEEK Oct. 1 that Google and Apple are increasingly targeting the same customers and same needs with very similar offerings, so it's natural that the companies would take steps to preserve their own interests.

"Promoting a competitor on your product is something that Apple historically doesn't do ... There are alternatives to Google and I would expect Apple to increasingly use them," Enderle said.

Meanwhile, Google is continuing its march on the mobile Web. The company's mobile search team Sept. 30 released a new local search interface for Web-enabled phones.

Local Search for Mobile lets users search for locations on their desktop computers, star them for future reference, which effectively creates lists of the places, and then call them up on their mobile phones.

Users can also click on place names to visit Place Pages for Google Maps that include opening hours and reviews, among other information. Read more about this here.  

Google Sept. 30 also launched personalized suggestions, something available on Google's desktop search engine, for Android, iPhone and Palm WebOS. The personalized Google Suggest feature lets users logged into their Google accounts search for content on their desktops, then see the suggested content in the search box on their mobile phones.

These moves highlight the importance Google places on making mobile iterations of search and other applications as painless to use as they are on the desktop. This is a mission Google and Apple have both undertaken for their customers, despite their obvious competitive conflicts.

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