Apple and Google Breaking Up Over iPhone Maps?

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For the lovers of the iPhone, it's like daddy and mommy are getting a divorce. If that wasn't the case--if Apple and Google weren't calling it quits--why would Apple buy a mapping company?

Steve, tell us it isn't so!

The tight integration between the iPhone and Google, especially its mapping products, is a big part of why people love their iPhones. Hearing the Apple has bought its own mapping company, Placebase, is unsettling.

The deal, which supposedly happened in July, added talent to a supposed "Geo" unit inside Apple. Nothing wrong with that, but before Apple starts messing with Google Maps on iPhones, it needs to think very seriously about the consequences.

If a new Apple mapping product is to replace Google Maps, it needs to be done by offering customers a choice of mapping providers. If Apple is good enough, people will switch and eventually the rest can be moved over by force, if necessary. But, only after Apple Maps does everything that Google Maps does--and then some.

There are reasons why this may be a much ado about very little. Apple can find plenty of location-based applications or features to add to iPhone and Mac OS that could run on top of Google Maps. New mapping apps might use new Apple technology while the existing ones could remain on Google Maps and be improved upon.

There doesn't have to be a conflict here, but we're sure Apple and Google aren't as chummy as they once were. Apple's penchant for secrecy makes matters worse and leads to speculation that perhaps exceeds reality.

As for Placebase, the Los Angeles startup was founded to sell a mapping system to businesses, which is hard to do when Google offers such a service free. GigaOm has a nice story that explains what founder Jaron Waldman hoped to accomplish. Here is an example of Placebase and its PushPin Java API in action at a site called PolicyMap.

Waldman's LinkedIn profile says he now works at Apple, after four years at Placebase.

There is a strong possibility that Apple didn't actually buy Placebase, just hired Waldman (and others?) when the company failed. That's the rumor inside the mapping business and makes as much sense as anything else. Regardless, Waldman's arrival at Apple demonstrates that the company is seriously interested in mapping.

There is much to be done in the mapping space and Google has brought tremendous value to the iPhone with its cool mapping application. Apple is rarely a stupid company, so I have to guess it will think long before dumping Google Maps for something created in-house.

While Apple may someday offer a mapping platform of its own, the company would be wise to remain tied to Google until it has something truly incredible to offer.

Google Maps will be much easier to add value to than for Apple to beat.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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