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Apple rumored to take on Google's 3D maps with superior technology


Evidence continues to point to Apple actively developing a 3D mapping surface through a combination of acquisitions and in-house development, with recent rumors suggesting that the iPhone maker has acquired a Swedish 3D mapping company.

A bevy of reports noted on Saturday (via PC Mag) that Apple may have purchased its third mapping company in roughly two years.

In August, MacRumors noted that, according to local reports, a "company in the Western world" had purchased Sweden-based 3D mapping company C3 Technologies. At the time, Apple was among those speculated to be the purchaser, with Microsoft and Google also named as possible buyers.

It has now been suggested that Apple was indeed the company that snatched up C3. The mapping company uses once classified military targeting technology to create 3D maps. Technology Review reported in April of this year that C3's 3D mapping method entailed using planes equipped with angled digital SLR cameras to take aerial photos that capture the sides of buildings as well as the tops. Those images were then supplemented with photos from additional camera angles to create a full 3D rendering of a city.

"Unlike Google or Bing, all of our maps are 360° explorable," C3 Chief Strategy Officer Paul Smith said earlier this year. "Everything, every building, every tree, every landmark, from the city center to the suburbs, is captured in 3D—not just a few select buildings."

Swedish defense company Saab AB reportedly sold its 57.8 percent stake in C3 for as much as $150 million. As such, some have said that a full purchase of the company may have cost Apple upwards of $250 million.

Apple has shown a keen interest in mapping companies in recent years. In 2010, the iPhone maker acquired Web-based map company Poly 9. Prior to the acquisition, Poly 9 offered a "cross-browser, cross-platform 3D globe" product that did not require any downloads.

In 2009, the Cupertino, Calif., company purchased Placebase, a Google Maps competitor, sparking speculation that it was looking to decrease its dependance on Google technology for the Maps application on the iPhone. In 2010, it was revealed that Apple had begun using its own databases for location-based services, although it continues to rely on Google for maps and the Street View feature.

Apple's bet with its Siri voice assistant technology, also an acquisition from 2010, could help further reduce the reliance. Though the service is able to query Google's search engine, it also relies heavily on non-Google services such as Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and Yelp. Interestingly enough, Apple's FAQ on Siri notes that currently Maps and local search support are only available in the U.S., with support coming to additional countries in 2012.

Patents and job openings at Apple continue to point to coming advances in mapping technology from the company. Earlier this year, AppleInsider discovered two job listings for the position of "iOS Maps Application Developer." According to the posting, Apple is looking to "radically improve how people interact with maps and location-based services." The developers Apple was seeking were to have experience developing "sophisticated user interfaces" and would be required to work closely with the company's human interface team to craft "new and innovative features for iOS devices."

In 2010, a set of Apple patent applications showed that the company was looking into using future iPhones to generate 3D models of an object or place. More recently, Apple filed an application entitled "Augmented Reality Maps" for an invention that would overlay data such as directions or street names in real time on top of live video. Apple has also filed for a "Schematic Maps" patent where a mapping application would dynamically emphasize or exaggerate details such as roads or landmarks.