Report: Apple buys Embark, yet another mapping app

Embark's technology could give a needed boost to Apple's own Maps app

Apple is reportedly acquiring mapping app developer Embark, in a move that could lend more real-time navigation features for public transit to Apple's own Maps app.

The acquisition, which was first reported by tech journalist Jessica Lessin, follows several other recent mapping purchases for Apple: HopStop, another maker of apps for public transit directions; and Locationary, which provides data about local businesses; and WifiSLAM, an indoor location and mapping company.

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Apple did not directly confirm its acquisition of Embark, but in an emailed statement said, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

Apple declined to comment further on the deal.

Apple has faced some serious challenges over the past year in providing a consistently solid mapping product with its Maps app. Last September Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to publicly apologize for a series of issues plaguing the company's Maps app in Apple's iOS 6 operating system.

Embark is a company based in the San Francisco Bay Area that makes a mobile mapping app designed to help people navigate mass transit systems. The company's app provides "tailored trips" specific to the user's region, along with notifications for late-running trains and other advisories and closures.

Embark's technology, if it does find its way into a future Apple product, could enhance Apple's mapping products and make the company a stronger competitor to rivals like Google. Google's Maps app already offers real-time public transit navigation features, as do some smaller players like iTransitBuddy.

Embark's app is available for free on the iPhone for 10 transit systems including Boston's MBTA, Chicago's L, the New York City Subway, and San Francisco's BART and Caltrain systems, with more on the way, according to Embark's website.

It is not clear whether Embark's app will be shut down as part of the acquisition. The app was still available in Apple's App Store at the time of this article's posting.

Embark's team could not be immediately reached to comment on the deal.

Google, meanwhile, has been rolling out a series of enhancements to its Maps app in recent weeks. The service got more real-time traffic alerts just this week, based on Google's recent acquisition of crowdsourced mapping developer Waze. Separately, the Google Maps app received some other navigation tools last month, which came from other data providers such as TomTom.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com.

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