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Apple Maps search may get personal, and much better, thanks to Spotsetter

Apple Maps search may get personal, and much better, thanks to Spotsetter

Apple has reportedly acquired Spotsetter, a social search and mapping startup

Spotsetter's app provided recommendations based on people's social networks.

Spotsetter's app provided recommendations based on people's social networks.

Apple may be looking to infuse its mapping software with personally relevant results by incorporating social search with technology acquired from the startup Spotsetter.

A Friday TechCrunch report said that Apple had acquired Spotsetter. The company provided personalized recommendations for places to go based on various outside data like content from people's social networks on Facebook and Twitter.

Apple declined to comment. But a blog post from Spotsetter published last week said that the company was closing down its app, which was available on iOS and Android.

Though the Spotsetter app is now dead, its technology may find its way into Apple Maps -- or maybe an altogether new app -- providing new features around discovery that could help Apple better compete against Google Maps. Google Maps provides a variety of targeted search functions, but it's not currently using social data in a major way.

With Spotsetter's technology, Apple probably sees an opportunity to improve Maps, and possibly grow elsewhere.

"This could be a sign that Apple will become more social, which is a technology they have struggled to master," said Brian Blau, an industry analyst with Gartner. "Adding context to maps will make them more useful and more interesting, as people will start to use maps for not only general navigation, but they can use maps as a primary search tool."

Spotsetter's technology was focused on what it called a "personal index," to provide recommendations on places to go based on data like people's Foursquare tips, Facebook posts, tweets and even Instagram photos. The indices, the company has said, were based on the content of the posts, who posted them, when and from where. Results were ranked based on a number of signals including the searcher's location and which friends the person may have tagged as "experts."

The idea was that no two users would get the same results for a given search.

"Many people will have Chinese food in their suggestions," as the company previously described its service on its website. "But if you and your friends are die-hard joggers, into indie bands, or like kite surfing, Spotsetter will highlight that information."

Spotsetter also pulled in content from other sites like Zagat, OpenTable and Yelp.

Glitches and routing inaccuracies have plagued Apple's Maps. In 2012 Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized for the state of the software. So, Apple no doubt is looking to improve its mapping software.

But wearable devices were also part of Spotsetter's strategy, which might also explain Apple's interest in the technology. On Friday rumors were swirling that Apple would be unveiling some kind of wearable device in October, possibly in the form of a smartwatch.

"Here at Spotsetter we're bullish on wearables," the company has said on its website. "It's no secret that the space is heating up."

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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