Hoping to beef up its ability to deliver accurate information to its mobile users about retailers, restaurants and other businesses, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has acquired Canadian startup Locationary, All Things D reported on Friday (July 19).
The Toronto-based company uses crowdsourcing and information sharing from its customers to build and maintain a huge database of information on local businesses and other points of interest throughout the world. By using an army of paid "scouts," Locationary learns where stores and other businesses are, then continuously verifies that the stores are still in business, that they haven't moved (even within the same mall, for example) and that they aren't temporarily closed. The company says it has profiles of 175 million businesses.
That level of up-to-date information is obviously useful for iPhone-using customers who don't want to end up at an empty building after searching for a store or restaurant. It's also useful to retailers whose stores move, change hours or shift business directions—information that's often not accurate in online sources -- and that's without considering the usual range of location-based retail opportunities that don't work if the store isn't where an app expects it to be.
The most likely use for the Locationary database is to improve Apple Maps, the home-grown mapping software that Apple launched last fall so it could kick Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps off the iPhone as part of the two companies' ongoing feud.
And the biggest downside of Apple's Locationary buyout may be the fact that it raises the stakes in that location-information arms race with Google. The problem for both customers and stores is that both mobile-OS vendors are likely to work hard to keep the other side from stealing their best data.
But these aren't trade secrets—it's just generic information that retailers want to get to customers. Anything that makes it harder, not easier, for customers to find stores is just getting in the way. The sooner Apple and Google figure that out and find a way to settle their differences, the better off retailers will be.
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