When Google purchased Skybox Imaging—a company deploying satellites that take high-resolution photos of Earth—earlier in June, it was seen as a play on satellite imaging related to maps. That's not the business Skybox claims it is in, however; the company sees itself as an information company, and it could help Google do things like predict when Apple will launch new iPhones.
In the example cited in a WSJ profile of Skybox and Google, a UBS analyst discovered that satellite images of Walmart stores would give a good idea what sales figures would look like well ahead of the quarterly reports. Inspired by this example, Skybox began watching Apple supplier Foxconn, and the satellite firm believes it can predict iPhone release dates based on truck traffic patterns. Similarly, food supply can be predicted by viewing the health of crops.
There could be something to this for Google, honestly. Using the Apple example, what would Samsung pay for those photos of trucks outside of Foxconn? How much will Wall Street be willing to pay? Other competitors? Looking at it from this perspective, it's even more creepy that Google will soon be the company behind this data gathering.
Google claims this purchase is to bring better search to maps. There's also a good chance that licensing this technology is a very appealing business model to a company that can't seem to build revenue outside of search advertising. Thus far the optics aren't good enough to pick out people, but that doesn't mean Google won't have smart enough software to parse location data or aggregate information in some (mildly creepy) fashion.