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September 23, 2015

Apple’s Mapsense Deal Continues Location Data Push

George Leopold

Apple’s acquisition of the mapping visualization startup Mapsense adds to the growing momentum behind analyzing and rendering location data.

According to multiple reports, Apple (AAPL) acquired the San Francisco-based startup recently for an estimated $30 million. Mapsense was founded in 2013 by Erez Cohen, who previously worked for data analytics specialist Palantir Technologies (PALTECP). The Mapsense platform and accompanying developer tools focus on helping users ingest and analyze huge volumes of location data to make sense of “geotagged data.”

The platform also includes a high-speed mapping engine designed to ingest, index, search and filter up to 1 terabyte of location data. It runs on-premises or in the cloud. An accompanying data analysis tool provides visualization of mapping data along with geo-segmentation tools, according to the start-up’s still active website.

The platform also provides access to developer tools including the Mapsense.js library.

The deal for Mapsense is the latest acquisition of a location-services vendor by the consumer electronics juggernaut. According to a recent Gartner report of emerging big data applications, 70 percent of the companies it surveyed said they are analyzing or planning to analyze location data. The estimated 10 billion devices around the planet streaming location data each day are driving the analysis of location data.

Mapsense customers included Curbside, the developer of a mobile app used to find and buy products at nearby stores like Target (TGT), Home Depot (HD) and Crate and Barrel. The app allows customers to order products that are ready for pickup when users arrive at the store. Another customer, Thinknear, used Mapsense technology to develop an advertising platform based on location data. The ad platform connects to more than 40,000 mobile apps to collect several hundred billion pieces of location data a month.

Apple’s launch of an iOS 6 Maps feature for the iPhone in 2012 was a dud. The location data effort was intended as a challenge to Google (GOOG) Maps, but the release was quickly withdrawn after maps failed to show landmarks, among other glitches. Since then, Apple has been snapping up map and location data tools vendors. It acquired commercial navigation startup Coherent Navigation earlier this year.

For now, the largest consumers of location analytics are retailers, who rely on these tools to gauge foot traffic in and around stores. Location data can be used, for example, to help retailers identify the best locations for a new store. Indeed, companies like Toronto-based Via Informatics are providing location analytics as a service, drawing from a steady torrent of big data streaming from mobile devices and social networks.

The growth of location analytics is sure to expand as networks of sensors otherwise known as the Internet of Things collect even more location data. The challenge for Apple and other will be finding new ways to ingest and make sense of it all. That is presumably one of the motivations behind its Mapsense acquisition.

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