Apple Navigation Job Postings Point to Maps


Where in the World is Apple Maps?

Apple is looking for software engineers with experience in navigational systems, signalling that the company could be looking to develop its own mapping service to compete with Google Maps, at least for its iOS devices.


Apple had four job listings for positions with identical job descriptions on Friday (1, 2, 3, 4), as per a report from AppleInsider. On Monday, three of those job descriptions are listed as, “This job is no longer posted!” The third in the series, however, is still on Apple’s job site.

Apple started down the path that could lead to an Apple Maps service with the purchase of PlaceBase in July of 2009, a firm that had developed its own mapping technologies and Pushpin services for geotagging. In July of 2010, Apple also bought Quebec-based Poly9, a company that developed intermediary code for third party map-related services.

This isn’t the first map-related job posting Apple has made, either. In November of 2009, the company advertised for a software engineer that could help take iPhone and iPod touch mapping “to the next level.”

“We want to take Maps to the next level, rethink how users use Maps and change the way people find things,” Apple wrote in the listing. “We want to do this in a seamless, highly interactive and enjoyable way. We’ve only just started.”

Each time Apple has made a move in this field, there has been much speculation and pontification on what Apple plans. It’s likely that we’ve already seen some of PlaceBase’s technology come to market in Apple’s iLife suite with geotagging features in iPhoto, and Apple replaced Google Maps for iOS Location Services data starting with the release of the iPad.

Still, many observers have wondered if Apple was looking to replace all of Google Maps in its zeal to compete with newfound arch-rival Google. A full-blown Apple Maps feature would allow the company to stop giving Google a prominent placement on the home screen of every iPhone sold, if it chose to go that route.

It’s been 18 months (that we know about), however, since Apple began buying map-related assets, and it’s been more than a year since it first posted (and filled, in that the posting was eventually pulled), a want ad for a mapping engineer. Do these new positions mean that Apple is getting serious? Or is this more about timing and the development of its data center in North Carolina?

If Apple is going to enter this space, it has one opportunity to show the world that it can replace Google. Many people regard Google Maps as the best mapping service in the industry — the company’s Google Maps iPhone app was the first and only third party app Apple allowed on the original iPhone for a reason — and if “Apple Maps” (for lack of a better term) doesn’t perform at least as well (and preferably better), the company will be lampooned and panned far and wide for messing with a good thing.

In other words, doing Apple Maps correctly is far more important than having, say, Ping be perfect out of the gate. Ping was a new competitor in the social networking scene, but it wasn’t seeking to supplant Facebook, or even MySpace, if you remember that old site.

Ping can flounder along for some time while Apple works to make it something we care about without the company taking any serious egg on its corporate face, but Apple Maps has to be just right out of the gate.

So it’s no wonder that the company has been slow to roll out a new platform based on its existing mapping purchases, though the latest round of job postings leave zero doubt that this is what the company plans to do. Eventually.

The only real question is whether it will be limited to iOS devices, or available via a browser to really compete with Google Maps and Bing’s mapping service and Yahoo! and…you get the idea.