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Apple borgs Swedish face rec boffins

Jobs picks Polar Rose

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Apple has acquired Swedish face-recognition outfit Polar Rose, according to multiple reports.

Norwegian website Mac1.no (Google translation) reports that Steve Jobs and company have agreed to purchase all shares in the Malmö-based Polar Rose, which introduced a browser plug-in in 2007 for recognizing faces in photos posted across the web.

More recently, the startup offered a tool specifically for tagging faces on Facebook and Yahoo!'s Flickr photo-sharing service. And in the video below, it touts a mobile app called the Recognizr, which identifies faces in videos and links them with social-networking accounts:

TechCrunch Europe cites "rock-solid sources" in claiming that the acquisition is valued at $22 million. But then it claims these sources were wrong, saying it has confirmed that the value was actually $29 million.

Apple and Polar Rose have yet to confirm the deal. But earlier this month, Polar Rose shut down the free face-tagging service it offered at polarrose.com "This brings an end to several years worth of free end-user face-detection and recognition services from Polar Rose," the company said at the time.

"The service got quite a few users interested and this in turn led to interest by larger companies in licensing our technology. This meant refocusing and that left our free service out in the cold. Although we did try to keep it up to date, this became harder and harder over time, as our licensing business accelerated."

The company offers businesses a server platform known as FaceCloud, which provides face-recognition services for websites. It's this platform that backed the now-defunct free service at polarrose.com. The company also offers a mobile face-recognition library for Android handsets and iPhones known as FaceLib, and this can integrate with FaceCloud.

Apple's rumored acquisition comes just a few weeks after Google snapped up another face recognition and visual search outfit, Like.com. Like.com cut its teeth with a face recognition service known as Riya, but it soon graduated to a visual search engine that let you use photos to search for products across the web.

In other words, face recognition tech can be used to recognize things other than faces. Apple already offers face-recognition technology in its iPhoto and Aperture applications. Known as Faces, this is a means of sorting photos according to who's in them. The technology that underpins the Polar Rose services was originally developed at a pair of Swedish universities. The company employees about 15 people. ®

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