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What Apple's 2013 Shopping Spree Tells Us

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The purchases made this year weren't really about mapping.

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In March, Apple's focus on stepping up to the "mapping wars" became clear when the the Wall Street Journal reported a $20 million purchase of WiFiSlam. According to the company's AngelList description, its technology capabilities include the ability to pinpoint a smartphone location "in real time, to 2.5m accuracy using only ambient Wi-Fi signals already present in buildings," and location-based mobile apps that provide "step-by-step indoor navigation, product-level retail customer engagement, and proximity-based social networking."

In July, Apple bought Locationary, a Toronto-based startup which powers local business listings using crowdsourcing, and "Saturn," its platform tool, which allows participants to control data in their own preferred format and in real time. According to Locationary's YouTube video, Saturn "help[s] fulfill the potential of local search and mobile commerce." Shortly after that acquisition, news broke that Apple bought HopStop, another mapping service which provides detailed subway, bus, train, taxi, walking, and bike directions to users in more than 300 cities. Soon after, it purchased Embark, a small Silicon Valley-based service whose mapping apps also help users navigate underground transit services.

But Apple's 2013 buying spree isn't really about mapping. It's about reclaiming its stake in innovation, and mapping has become a significant part of the user experience. Though Apple's 2011 official introduction of Siri once earmarked its position as the leader in artificial intelligence, it has since failed to keep pace. Siri is now as recognized for what it can't do as for what it can. Apple's newer Today feature, meant to rival Google Now, simply aggregates data to give a snapshot of a user's day. By stark contrast, Google Now uses predictive technology based on a user's email, social media, and calendar data to add value, with features like notification of traffic congestion and suggested routes.

But does the technology really drive a buying preference? Based on TechCrunch reporter Michael Panzarino's opinion and the market share divide, all signs point to yes: "Google Now can be considered reason enough to buy an Android phone, and I don't think Apple is blind to how good it is," writes Panzarino.

Based on Apple's October purchase of personal data aggregator Cue, which reportedly cost anywhere from $35 million to $60 million, Apple indeed has a big-picture plan in place -- and it has just been set into motion.

Twitter: @WellnessOnLess
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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