Apple Revealed As Purchaser Of Mapping Tech Company C3

Back in March, we posted a demo of C3 Technology’s extremely cool 3D maps. The reconstructions of landmarks and buildings are created by a technique (as I understand it) similar to the Kinect hack we posted that uses compiled depth and parallax data to continually build and refine a 3D model of whatever it’s looking at. C3’s version obviously works on a larger scale and thus has different strengths and requirements, but it’s almost completely automated as long as you can afford to send a plane or copter up with the equipment.

They were bought earlier this year, but the purchaser was not known at the time. 9to5Mac has been informed that the buyer was none other than Apple. It makes sense: Apple has bought two other mapping companies, Placebase in 2009 and Poly9 in 2010. It seems beyond a doubt that they are deep into a skunk works operation to revamp their maps.

The use of Google maps has always struck me as a bit incongruous with the rest of iOS — not that it doesn’t work well and look good, otherwise Apple would never have used it. But with the rivalry between Apple and Google growing more intense every year, having such a primary function of the iPhone essentially outsourced must have started to really rankle Apple.

Google actually fired the first shot: the latest version of Google Maps and Google Navigation, the ones with 3D buildings and so on, was unapologetically offered only on Android devices. I speculated at the time that this was Google beginning to turn the screws on Apple and differentiate by discriminating with their essential services. Apple, of course, was already planning for this, knowing they couldn’t have as good of a product at launch but also knowing that a few years of work might produce something even better.

The addition of C3’s technology puts a powerful tool in Apple’s hands, and of course takes that tool out of others’. Photorealistic 3D maps, likely with local business and deal overlays and traffic data (all areas where Apple has been buying companies, patenting ideas, or developing products), may be the major feature of the next release of iOS.

“Sputnik” is the name of the new team, and is based in Sweden, as C3 was originally. The reference to the early lead the commies (as we might have said at the time) had on the US during the space race is pretty clear.

The purchase amount was not revealed. The original report put the value of the company at a billion dollars, but based on Saab’s 57.8% stake being valued at $150 million, the total value of the company looks to be more like a quarter of a billion.