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As Peter Krasilovsky posted this week, Apple made two acquisitions last week to advance its position in mapping and navigation. Locationary standardizes local business listings and HopStop — a company we’ve been talking to for years — specializes in navigation and public transit. Andrew Shotland poses the question of who will be next? (more on that in a minute).

Stepping back, it’s clear that these acquisitions are meant to strengthen Apple Maps’ data backbone in the wake of Mapgate. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Apple Maps is actually a pretty slick mapping tool. Where it goes wrong is data; things like place listings, navigation and public transit ( areas that these acquisitions cover).

It’s also important to note that these are areas where Google has excelled by collecting routing data from hundreds of billions of mapping queries since 2005. Any good mapping engine will iterate and apply this data to get better over time. Indeed, mapping is a game ultimately won on data — not bells and whistles and flyover imagery, as we warned.

From our September iPhone5/iOS6 launch coverage:

However one thing Apple could underestimate is the utility that’s a function of the local database and search algorithms that govern delivery of local results. That is certainly new territory for Apple, and it’s currently cobbling together a siloed list of content partners like Yelp and Waze.

Realizing this after the fact, Apple’s goal is now to buy its way out of the problem. Put another way, Apple doesn’t have the time to build mapping data, but it does have money — to the tune of $145B in cash. The latest acquisitions achieve some degree of listings integrity and navigation — especially public transit directions — famously lacking in Apple Maps.

But the big question is who will Apple acquire next? Peter Krasilovsky speculates map-based coupons and classifieds. Andrew Shotland likewise asked this question in a blog post in which a roundup of “local search geeks” including BIA/Kelsey analysts weigh in. In every case, predictions were data and content oriented (think Foursquare, Opentable).

We expect that will be the name of the game going forward for Apple Maps. I like Ness, Weotta, and Alohar as acquisition prospects — each for different reasons and to fill obviously different holes. Meanwhile, see Andrew’s full list here, Peter’s post here, and our ongoing coverage, including some new flavors of video commentary we’re working on.

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