Apple has apparently bought its third mapping company, the Sweden-based C3 Technologies. The company’s site has been taken down. C3 provides 3D mapping (a la Bing Maps or Google Earth) for a number of other publishers such as Nokia (Ovi Maps) and UK directory publisher Yell. (In the wake of this transaction Nokia will probably need to shift to Bing’s 3D mapping.)
I was given a demo of the product in Europe early this year and from what I could tell it was every bit as good as anything that Microsoft or Google are doing with 3D imagery on maps. Here’s Nokia’s description of C3 and its technology:
C3 uses modern camera equipment to capture as many as one image per second of the same object from up to 100 different angles. The images are then used to automatically reproduce the shape of the objects with very high accuracy. After that, an image processing software automatically drapes each shape with the texture chosen from the pictures of each object. The same process is being applied for all objects – buildings, houses, trees, and hills – the result is a seamless canvas of 3D-data where the resolution (8 to 12 centimeters per pixel) and quality is consistent over the entire model. This is the secret to C3 maps’ realistic look compared to competitors’ hand-made and cartoonish appearance …
There are a range of European and North American cities already mapped (20 in April of this year) with more coming. Again, this is the third mapping company that Apple has acquired since 2009:
These acquisitions together argue that at some point in the next 12 months (or so) Apple will replace some or all of the Google Maps functionality on iOS devices with its own product. Perhaps that will happen with next year’s rollout of iPhone 5, also rumored to be LTE compatible. It might require a faster iPhone to enable Apple’s maps vision to come to fruition.
In March of this year Apple posted a job for an iOS Maps Application Developer:
Come work for the team that revolutionized the mobile technology industry as it continues to define what computing looks like in a post-PC era. The Maps team is looking for a proactive and hardworking software engineer to join our team. Along with excellent skills in object-oriented software design and programming, the successful candidate will have real-world experience developing sophisticated user interfaces. Excellent communication skills are also a must, as you will be collaborating closely with Apple’s peerless human interface team to add new and innovative features.
Apple also said in April that it was “now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.” In June Apple renewed or extended its mapping deal with Google. That appears to be a stop-gap of sorts until Apple is satisfied that its replacement product is ready.
Given how livid Steve Jobs was over Android (see his “thermonuclear war” comment) it’s a safe bet that the change from Google Maps to an in-house Apple mapping platform has been a long-time in the making — much like Alexandre Dumas’ literary Count of Monte Cristo methodically carried out his revenge against those who had betrayed him. It will be interesting to see whether and how Apple improves upon Google Maps when it eventually launches.
Below is just one of many demo videos on YouTube showing C3 capabilities.
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