Making Maps better: Apple buys public-transit app Embark

It’s almost a year since the troubled launch of Apple’s Maps offering, but in that time the company has been working steadily to iron out the creases, or, more accurately, fill in the crevices.

In its ongoing quest to build a better app, the Cupertino company has been acquiring a number of navigation-related software companies, the latest being Embark, which offers public transit information via a slew of iOS and Android apps. Or did. While its iOS offerings remain in the iTunes store, the Android equivalents have been pulled from Google Play.

News of the acquisition was revealed on Thursday by technology writer Jessica Lessin. Apple confirmed the deal, though declined to say how much it paid for the company.

Founded two years ago, Embark offers public transit information, travel advisories, and step-by-step directions for cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago. Last year Embark NYC won the NYC Big Apps 3.0 award for Best Mobility App.

Apple looks set to utilize Embark’s technology for its own Maps app, though it’s not clear if or when it’ll kill off the company’s standalone offerings.

The buyout is the latest in a number of map-related acquisitions for Apple. In July it bought online transit-navigation company HopStop, headquartered in New York, as well as Toronto-based Locationary, which deals more with business-related location data.

Last year Apple removed Google Maps from iOS, replacing it with its own Maps app. However, as soon it was released, it was clear it wasn’t ready, with many users complaining of misplaced locations, bad directions and a lack of information. The situation was so serious for the tech company that boss Tim Cook posted a letter of apology on the Apple website. Since then it’s been steadily improving the software, helped in part by the recent hiring of so-called ‘ground truth managers’, or simply put, mapping experts.

According to an Apple Insider report earlier this month, soon-to-launch iOS 7 will give users the chance to help Apple further hone the software with an opt-in ‘Help Improve Maps’ invitation offered on setup. Google may still be some way ahead when it comes to maps and related services, but Apple, utilizing all its available resources, looks set to close the gap over the long term.

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