In 2009, Apple acquired a little known mapping company called PlaceBase. The ostensible motivation behind the acquisition was to decrease Apple’s reliance on Google and their own Maps app that rests ever so prominently on the iOS homescreen.
Now PlaceBae actually existed before Google Maps, but found it increasingly hard, if not downright impossible, to compete with ‘free’. So to spicen things up a big, PlaceBase adjusted mid-stream and came up with a new business model whereby they included intriguing map customization and aggregation options. For example, PlaceBase users could overlay crime and traffic data over corresponding map locations.
Following Apple’s purchase of PlaceBase, company CEO and founder Jaron Waldman joined Apple and led up Apple’s “Geo Team.”
A few months later, Apple put up a job posting looking for an iPhone Software Engineer to help take “Maps to the next level” and to help users rethink how they interact with apps and to improve the way people find things.
Make no mistake about it, Apple is keen on booting Google maps from the iOS homescreen as soon as it comes up with its own homebrew competitor.
Now, nearly two years after Apple acquired PlaceBase comes a new patent application from Apple titled “Schematic Maps.” The listed inventors include Waldman and Moran Ben-David, PlaceBase’s other co-founder.
The patent application describes a method of displaying map information as to highlight pertinent information and obscure superfluous and potentially distracting information. In other words, by blurring out portions of a map that aren’t relevant to a user’s desired route, for example, navigation can be made a helluva lot easier – particularly for folks on smaller screens like the iPhone where map data can easily become congested.
Further, the patent application describes a method of making what would otherwise be hard to find locations, such as landmarks, more prominent on the screen.
The patent summary reads in part:
The following relates to preparing and presenting schematic maps, which are maps that present information in a format that presents only information that is most relevant to a given situation in order to provide a simple and clear representation sufficient to aid a user in guidance or orientation. The schematic maps as described herein can be formatted based on the attributes of a display on which they are presented so that the map layout and presentation can be optimized for the particular display. The schematic maps can be “distorted” to better illustrate important maps areas in greater detail and using a relatively larger display area while deemphasizing less important map areas by illustrating them in less detail and using a relatively smaller display area, and thus the schematic maps can be devoid of adherence to a particular scale.