The first indication of this was a tweet on July 7th by Fred Lalonde, the founder of openplaces.org.
"Apple bought PlaceBase - all hush hush. Pushpin site taken offline. Hyperlocal iPhone?"
ComputerWorld did a background check on PlaceBase's founder and CEO, Jaron Waldman and found that his LinkedIn profile indicates he's no longer founder and CEO of PlaceBase in Los Angeles. He's now part of the "Geo Team" at Apple.
Placebase.com has been pulled offline and the site for their software API, Pushpin.com, forwards to the API help pages.
GigaOM described the Placebase service over a year ago:
Waldman thought differently. He decided to compete with Google and other free mapping services by doing two things: One, by offering customizations and tons of features that integrated private and public data sets in many diverse ways. (He knew it would be a while before Google would get around to offering customization). His other twist was to offer a way to layer commercial and other data sets (such as demographics and crime data) onto the maps using an easy-to-use application programming interface (API). The product is called PushPin.
The relationship between Google and Apple has become increasingly competitive over the last year. Google has launched its own mobile platform, its own browser, and soon its own operating system. Apple has rejected several Google applications from launching on the iPhone sparking an FCC investigation into the issue. Conflicting reports to the FCC were published and the Google CEO was asked to resign from the Apple board.
Seems logical that Apple would want to free itself from being dependent on Google for the iPhone's killer app. Or at least have a backup ready, just in case...