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Apple acquisition points to Google Maps divorce

Poly9, playing for time

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Apple has acquired the French-Canadian mapping-software firm Poly9 and moved the company's braintrust to the Cupertino mothership.

This news comes from the Quebec daily Le Soleil in an article with a title that emphasizes that the acquisition was for Poly9's talent more than its products: "Apple achète des cerveaux de Québec" — "Apple acquires brains of Quebec," essentially.

Brains, not assets, are what Poly9 provides — the company doesn't have its own map database, but instead develops APIs that use others' map assets. According to Le Soleil, Poly9's sources include Google Earth, Google Maps, MapQuest, Urban Mapping, and "bien d'autres" (many others). The company also offered an online "cross-browser, cross-platform 3D globe" mapping service, Poly9 Globe, to which its clients could link, but that service has now been discontinued.

What those aforementioned brains have developed and have brought with them to Cupertino are map-management APIs. According to Le Soleil, Apple was already one of Poly9's clients, along with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC, Skype, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), among others — the latter which contracted with Poly9 to develop its annual Christmas Eve Santa tracker.

Apple's acquisition of Poly9 brings the continuance of its mapping partnership with Google into question — as does Cupertino's gobbling up of a similar company, Placebase, last October, and its two job postings in November seeking engineers for the "iPhone and iPod touch Maps team" to take their mobile mapping offerings to "the next level".

Yes, Poly9 has used Google's mapping assets in the past, but Google isn't the sole supplier of map databases — the brains behind Poly9 and Placebase, plus those next-level-seeking engineers will have other sources from which to draw. Google's Wi-Fi sucking Street View database presents a much bigger challenge, however.

With the relationship between Google and Apple becoming more and more strained, and with bitter battles looming over Android, Chrome OS, iOS, and more, Jobs & Co appear to be preparing for a severing of mapping ties with Mountain View. ®

Bootnote

In his article, the Le Soleil reporter seems surprised that he couldn't get any information about the acquisition from either Apple or former Poly9 employees. Apparently, he's new to what he described as "un véritable mur du silence". "Mur" is French for "wall" — and we assume you can deduce the rest.

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