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Apple buys 3-D modeling company C3 Technologies, could overhaul Maps app

by Phil Hornshaw

Rumors have hit the Internet that Apple has purchased C3 Technologies, a Saab spin-off company whose 3-D mapping technology could drastically change the way we use GPS with iOS devices.

The story is being reported by 9to5Mac, which says that Apple has acquired the company to add to two others it has working for its mapping apps: Poly9, a 3-D mapping company, and mapping software developer Placebase. C3 creates some pretty intense, highly-detailed and realistic-looking 3-D renderings of real locations based on map data.

According to 9to5Mac, C3 was reportedly bought in 2009, but it wasn’t clear who the buyer was. Now the site is reporting that Apple was, in fact, the buyer, and that most of the C3 team has been kept on-board and is working together in Sweden. That’s where C3 was located before it was acquired by Apple, although now the division is reportedly known as “Sputnik.”

C3’s technology apparently requires almost no human input, but still uses cameras to capture information about a physical location and create high-quality 3-D renderings of various spaces. 9to5Mac has some pretty mind-blowing images from C3 in its story, and it’s easy to see how Apple could make some really great use out of the technology.

Apple doesn’t often gobble up smaller companies, so when it does, there’s usually a purpose in sight. A notable example is Siri: Apple obtained the company responsible for the voice-activated personal assistant software, then rolled it into iOS. Currently Siri is only available with the iPhone 4S, but you can bet that probably by next summer when the iPhone 5 is expected, you’ll be able to use Siri on more iOS devices.

The success of Siri suggests that C3’s mapping technology could be put to some pretty great uses in Apple’s platform. It would make sense if Apple is looking to move away from Google Maps and create its own mapping solution, which would make sense given that the two companies are at war over smartphone supremacy. With Apple’s A5 chip embedded in the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S, its devices could likely provide the power C3’s maps will need, and they could pretty well revamp one of the iPhone’s most useful features.

It’ll likely be a while before we start to see real development on C3’s tech in iOS, though (if the report actually proves to be true, that is). But given how big a deal Siri is, and how it might even be driving the sales of the iPhone 4S, it’s a fair bet that another great innovation in easy to use technology like C3 seems to be able to offer could have a big impact on iOS as well.