Deals and IPOs

Apple acquires Coherent Navigation, a GPS start-up

Mike Isaac
How to navigate Apple's latest acquisition
How to navigate Apple's latest acquisition

For many of the largest Silicon Valley technology companies, location software undergirds numerous applications and features in their products.

For Apple, it has been a game of catch-up.

To that end, Apple confirmed on Sunday that it had purchased Coherent Navigation, a Bay Area global positioning company, further bolstering Apple's location technology and services.

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," the company said in an email.

An Apple store in New York
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Founded in 2008, Coherent Navigation was a small firm that focused on creating commercial navigation services based on partnerships with companies like Boeing and Iridium, the satellite network operator, according to a description on the LinkedIn page of Paul Lego, the company's former chief executive.

Since its start, the importance of its technology has only grown.Coherent Navigation worked on high-precision navigation systems, technology that is far stronger than many consumer-grade global positioning systems, which are typically accurate to within three to five meters. In the past, Coherent Navigation has also worked on autonomous navigation and robotics projects, according to previous company job listings, as well as projects for the Defense Department.

It is unclear exactly how Apple will use the company's services or technology, or if the company will incorporate its prior work into Apple's current products.

Terms of Apple's acquisition of Coherent Navigation were not disclosed.

The acquisition, which was first reported by the technology site MacRumors, is another in a string of location technology service acquisitions made by Apple over the past six years. The purchase of Placebase, a small mapping service, in 2009 represented Apple's transition to building its own mapping technology. Over the following years, Apple bought a string of companies in much the same vein, including Locationary and Hopstop.

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Many of these acquisitions were part of a broader strategy to move away from reliance on Google Maps, Google 's widely used navigation service. In 2012, Apple released its own mapping service using in-house technology as well as some licensed from TomTom, a Dutch digital mapping company. That replaced Apple's old mapping application, which was based on Google Maps.

Competition for location-based services has been intensifying, as some of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies vie for more control over such technologies.

In February, Uber, the ride-hailing start-up, announced it had opened an institute for autonomous car research in Pittsburgh, where the company will work with the National Robotics Engineering Center and fund a series of robotics fellowships and professorships in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

More recently, a coalition of German automakers has been competing with Uber to acquire Nokia Here, the digital mapping arm of Nokia, the Finnish technology company. If Uber is successful, the move will help lessen its reliance on Google's mapping service, which currently underlies a significant part of Uber's navigation technology.