A lot of people have asked me over the last few days what I make of Apple buying both Locationary and Hopstop in the same week. As someone who founded and ran engineering at a local data company, my opinion is likely biased, but I say it’s an important move by Apple that, with effective integration, will allow them to improve Apple Maps and other local product offerings in across dimensions.
Local data is measured on three axis: breadth, depth, and quality. Breadth consists of how much data you have. This is the easiest problem for a company like Apple to solve. They can buy or license local data from various providers – essentially just throw money at this problem and solve it quickly. Depth and quality on the other hand require much more time, engineering, and multi-pronged strategy to really live up to what users expect.
The Hopstop acquisition is a direct investment in depth (or how deep can you get on one specific attribute of local data). Hopstop immediately gives Apple best of brand support for intercity transit directions – something that is required to compete with Google Maps public transit integrations. How can I get from point A to point B is a very common mobile query, and trying to build a system that answers this yourself requires going city by city, datasource by datasource, deal by deal. Hopstop has been doing a great job of executing on this for years, and will likely to continue to do so with Apple’s resources at their back.
Based upon what I’ve read since the Locationary acquisition, I assume that this is an investment in data quality. Their CEO wrote an amazing post for Techcrunch a year ago outlining the technology required for maintaining high data quality (similar to what we built at Hyperpublic), and it looks like they’ve invested heavily in crowdsourcing to ensure freshness in their data. Combining technology + the crowd is necessary to make progress on this problem.
Unfortunately you can never fully win at solving the local data challenge because you’re working within an ever changing world where the data just isn’t always available digitally. The best you can do is show constant improvement on the breadth, depth, and quality axis and use the right mix of team + technology + crowd to keep chugging along. I’m happy to see Apple recognizing the importance of investment in this area. Congrats to the teams at Locationary and Hopstop.