It’s a good day to be a transit app. As Apple is clearly looking to integrate transit directions in its Maps app, it’s snapping up those transit apps to which it previously guided users after dropping Google Maps for iOS 6. Just weeks after Apple acquired the popular app HopStop, the company has now acquired transit app Embark.
Founded in 2011, Embark isn’t that different from HopStop in that they both provide walking, train/subway, and taxi directions for major U.S. cities. But where HopStop is an all-inclusive app that offers directions based on your current location, Embark offers a suite of different apps for each major city. Embark currently has apps for Boston, Chicago, Long Island, the New York subway, New York Metro North, San Francisco’s BART and Caltrain, and Washington DC.
Embark’s city selection isn’t quite as extensive as HopStop’s, but some prefer Embark for its ease of use. Unlike HopStop, Embark does integrate Apple Maps and it even works offline, so you can get directions and plan your trip even when underground.
You can also get push notifications for delays in your routes, bookmark stations to save them, and see current delays and detours at other stations. (There’s nothing worse than running late and finding out that your station is undergoing construction.)
When Apple dropped Google Maps like a bad, revenue-eating habit and the masses revolted for a lack of transit directions, Apple began directing users to third party apps. Embark was one such app, and in the weeks following the release of iOS 6, its downloads and usage spiked. Where it had been routing some two million trips per month prior to the release of iOS 6, afterward it was routing some four million trips per month.
Embark claimed to have over half a million users when BMW i made a strategic investment in the company last November.
And so the Google/Apple Maps wars wage on. The Google Maps app for iOS was downloaded 10 million times in the first 48 hours of its release.
Google upped the ante in June when it shelled out $966 million for navigation app Waze, which offers turn-by-turn directions with a crowd-sourcing twist: it encourages users to share driving conditions on their routes, such as accidents and traffic jams. As a result, Waze can offer real-time directions with alternate routes and shortcuts.
No word on how much Apple paid for Embark, or when the deal was made. Apple only confirmed the acquisition with its characteristically vague: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
Vagueness aside, Apple has clearly realized that it made a huge mistake dropping transit directions with iOS 6 and now it's working double time to fix that.