Apple Inc. agreed to buy online transit-navigation service Inc., people with knowledge of the deal said, seeking to improve mapping tools after a rocky debut for its directions software last year.

The people asked not to be identified because the deal isn’t public. AllThingsD reported yesterday that Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is purchasing Locationary Inc., a Toronto-based company focused on business-location maps.

New mapping software Apple debuted in September with the iPhone 5 has been faulted for getting users lost and for its lack of public-transportation directions. HopStop shows users in more than 500 cities the fastest way to travel by foot, bike, subway and car; Locationary deploys real-time data from a variety of sources to help users find featured businesses.

Apple, which touted the map features as a key software change in the iPhone 5, built its navigation application amid a growing battle with Google Inc., which had provided mapping data since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. Apple built the replacement app in part because it wanted to scale back its relationship with Google, not because of any product flaws, two people familiar with Apple’s mapping product said last year.

Google unveiled its mapping application for the iPhone and iPad in December. Google Maps is the most popular free program in Apple’s App Store. HopStop ranks No. 7 among free navigation tools. HopStop, based in New York, provides directions for more than 140 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and six other countries, according to its website.

Maps Battle

Joe Meyer, chief executive officer of HopStop, referred to Apple for comment.

Google, seeking to seeking to keep rivals from eroding its lead in mobile-navigation, acquired Waze Inc. last month. (See "The Buyside: Waze Win Spotlights Crowd-Sourcing Craze") The developer, whose mobile app solicits input from about 50 million users to improve directions and display traffic and road-hazard details.

The acquisitions reflect a widening rift between the two companies as they court mobile users.

After Apple introduced its mapping software and met with customer complaints, chief executive Tim Cook apologized for the “frustration” in September, vowing to improve the program and suggesting alternative apps.

Google has been building out its online mapping software since 2005, using cars and satellites to accumulate data that helps improve its accuracy and reliability. To catch up, Apple can use location data collected from customers using its maps to improve the service. Apple’s map software includes a feedback feature for users to report inaccurate directions and other bugs.

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