June 11, 2018 / 11:07 AM / 2 months ago

Mapbox taps ex-Apple designer to head augmented reality efforts

(Reuters) - Mapping startup Mapbox Inc said Monday that it had hired Avi Cieplinski, an veteran of Twitter and Apple who co-invented several popular iPhone features, to head up its efforts help application makers design location-based augmented reality software.

Mapbox does not make a mapping app itself but provides the underlying maps inside of other apps that compete against Alphabet Inc’s Google Maps and HERE Technologies, a map firm owned by a group of companies. Mapbox maps are found in Snap Inc’s messaging app and the Instacart grocery delivery app.

Washington, D.C.-based Mapbox secured $164 million in funding last year from a group led by Softbank Group Corp’s Vision Fund and has been expanding beyond standard maps and to help developers use location in creative ways. Earlier this month, the company announced a series of partnerships with Microsoft Corp, Intel Corp and Softbank’s ARM Holdings around mapping services for self-driving cars.

Augmented reality, in which digital objects are superimposed on the real-world on the screen of a device, has become another key area of focus for Mapbox.

Both Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google have rolled out systems to help developers build augmented reality software but beyond a very rough version of augmented reality featured in the game Pokemon Go, the technology has yet to gain widespread popularity.

But Cieplinski said that was part of what drew him to the job with Mapbox. At Apple, he co-invented the phone “3D Touch” feature, which lets users press harder or softer on the screen to carry out different functions, and the so-called “Taptic Engine” that can marry taps on the screen to the feeling of a click, despite the lack of a physical button.

Just as he helped app developers understand how to work those features into their software, Cieplinski said he hopes to help software developers integrate augmented reality and maps of the real world. That could mean anything from pinning a game character to real world location similar to Pokemon Go, to letting users see “through” buildings because Mapbox’s data knows what is on the other side.

“Augmented reality is a great example of something that is new and very exciting, but also ill-defined, especially when you think about what it’s going to do for regular people,” Cieplinski said. “This is a great company to do that work in.”

In recent months, Mapbox has also hired executives from Tesla and Google.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis

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