Why Apple bought Poly9 (and what Is Poly9?)

A report suggests that, with Poly9, Apple plans to develop its own in-house mapping software for its popular mobile devices.

Apple has bought Poly9, a Quebec-based online mapping company, and has relocated most of the firm's employees to Apple's Silicon Valley offices, according to a report by French-Canadian news site Cyberpresse. PCWorld was unable to reach either Apple or Poly9 officials to confirm the report, which suggests that Apple plans to develop its own in-house mapping software for its popular mobile devices, including the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Cupertino currently uses Google Maps as the default mapping app on its mobile hardware. Given the widening rift between Apple and Google, however, it wouldn't be a shock to learn that Steve Jobs' team is building a homegrown alternative to Google's software.

So what are Apple's intentions for Poly9? That remains to be seen, of course, and secretive Apple isn't a company that discusses its future plans. One possibility is that Apple integrates Poly9 with Siri, a voice-search iPhone app that Apple bought in April. Whatever happens, the Poly9 and Siri deals indicate that Apple may send Google Maps packing in the not-too-distant future.

Poly9 also makes Poly9 Globe, a 3D browser-based geolocation tool used by a number of tech firms, including Sanyo, Skype, and LinkedIn, according to the company. Poly9 has also developed application programming interfaces for Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other large corporations.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Poly9's main website was down, possibly a victim of too much traffic resulting from the Apple report. Another (perhaps more likely) scenario is that Apple shuttered the site after news of the sale leaked out.

As for the Apple-Google relationship, well, it is becoming quite clear that a messy divorce is inevitable. Google's Android mobile platform continues to grab market share, partly at the iPhone's expense. Google is developing an Android music store to challenge iTunes. And Apple's policies may boot Google's Admob business from Cupertino's fledgling iAd mobile ad platform, according to one Google official.

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Jeff Bertolucci

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