Apple Buys Locationary to Help Address Maps Woes

Apple, which has said its Maps app is "not there yet," has bought Canadian startup Locationary to change that.

Apple has purchased Locationary, a Toronto-based map-focused startup that specializes in highly specific location data and business profile information. The company collects information such as hours of operation, products, services and rich media and can overlay it on a business's location on a map.

Canada's Globe and Mail reported the purchase July 19, and Apple confirmed it to AllThingsD, which linked to a Sept. 30, 2012, article that Locationary CEO Grant Ritchie wrote for TechCrunch, detailing five major mapping issues that Apple needed to solve.

It seems Apple agreed—or thought Ritchie would be a great asset for helping get the job done.

Apple introduced the iPhone 5 on Sept. 12, 2012, and with it iOS 6, which replaced the mapping software of Apple rival Google with Apple's own app effort, Maps. The app proved to be such a mess—bridges melted into rivers, landmarks and roads were relocated—that Apple CEO Tim Cook publically apologized for it, even as the iPhone 5 launched in 22 additional countries.

Apple has since updated and improved on the application, but it has yet to give it an official reintroduction.

During a May 28 interview at an AllThingsD event, Cook described mapping as "complex" and said that Apple has an "enormous investment" in Maps.

"We screwed up," Cook added. "It's greatly improved but not there yet. We have more to do."

Ritchie's five points of advice to Apple go a long way in explaining the complexity of the undertaking—and how Apple could have gotten it so wrong.

One, he points out, aggregating location data is hard. To tackle the job, "Apple would need to bring in two or three horizontal (core) databases for each country."

Two, aggregating vertical business data is even harder. It's not uncommon, wrote Ritchie, "for a large publisher or search engine to use more than 100 different data sources," such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as retailer-specific data from large national chains.

Three, standardizing all the above-mentioned data is another major undertaking—consider even something as simple as how many ways there are to type in a phone number. Plus, once standardizing is accomplished, setting up the infrastructure to process all the data sources "is also a challenge," wrote Ritchie, "especially if Apple wants to do real-time updates."

With all of the above in place, Apple would then need to—point No. 4—"match the [points of interest] to a canonical or reference place." Ritchie calls this a difficult and time-consuming thing to do.

"It requires a complex algorithm that needs profile details, crowd-sourced info and machine learning and reporting tools."

Finally, tip five, Apple will need to select and merge the best information into a composite profile for each place, which is what the user will see.

"Data integration is a complicated but crucial process for local search, mapping and directory apps," wrote Ritchie. "It's also something that most people don't think about or notice until it goes wrong."

With the next official launch of Maps, the world will be watching to see if Apple can get it right.