The deal comes as more organizations look to gain value from vast stores of geographic data, particularly in an age when so many people carry mobile devices, such as Apple's iPhone, that include GPS and other geographic tracking tools.
Recode first reported the deal earlier late last week, and so far Apple has declined to comment on its plans for Mapsense. But it does neatly fit into the industry's increased interest in location-based data.
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"In general, we do see an increased trend in the interest for location-based data. All the data discovery vendors from Qlik to Tableau to SAP are trying to improve in this area," Gartner Research VP Cindi Howson told InformationWeek.
Indeed, the most recent Gartner BI Spending Intentions report and Magic Quadrant customer survey, which polled more than 2,000 users of business intelligence and analytics tools, revealed that 23% of respondents already have location-based analytics, and another 34% plan to add them to their analytic portfolio.
Mapsense is a nearly three-year-old startup that has raised $2.5 million in seed funding and has about a dozen employees. The company has focused on location data visualization that includes a mapping engine, self-serve data analysis, and developer tools in the form of an open-source D3-based Mapsense.js library. Its engine enables developers to create data-driven interactive maps.
Customers include Curbside, a company that provides an app that enables consumers to use their phones to help them find what they need at nearby retail stores, and Thinknear, a company that provides analytics consulting to Fortune 500 companies for marketing and advertising campaigns.
The Mapsense acquisition isn't Apple's first attempt at adding this kind of technology. Apple launched its own iOS Maps feature for its iPhone in conjunction with iOS 6 in 2012. It was designed to replace Google Maps on the iPhone, but the app was not quite ready for prime time. It was inaccurate. Cities and landmarks were missing or not labeled correctly, among other problems. CEO Tim Cook published a public apology to customers on the company's website following the release.
But Apple didn't give up, and has since acquired a few other companies prior to the Mapsense deal. In 2013, Apple bought Hopstop, a crowd-sourced map and traffic tool that had been compared to Waze, which itself was acquired by Google earlier in 2013. Earlier this year Apple bought Coherent Navigation, another startup, but one focused on commercial navigation.
Google with its Android OS and Apple with its iPhone are natural fits for such mapping visualization acquisitions, since they collect so much data from their mobile devices' users. They are probably the biggest names making such investments.
But Howson pointed out that other companies have been expanding into the location-based visualization space as well, because interest has accelerated, driven by sensors and the Internet of Things. She pointed to the examples of BMW, Daimler, and Audi acquiring Nokia Here (formerly Navtech) and of Bosch and TomTom partnering on mapping technology for automated driving.