Apple Buys Polar Rose to Rival Google Goggles

Apple has purchased facial recognition startup Polar Rose, possibly to build an alternative to Google Goggles. Goggles, which does not enable facial recognition, has yet to hit the iPhone.

Apple has purchased Swedish computer vision startup Polar Rose, which makes facial recognition software Apple could leverage in an alternative application to Google Goggles.

Polar Rose offers computer vision software, or applications that use complex algorithms to identify and derive meaning from images instead of text.

The company ceased offering its free tagging system on Flickr and Facebook Sept. 6, citing "interest by larger companies in licensing our technology."

In as close to a confirmation as Apple is going to get, a spokesperson for the company told eWEEK, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purpose or plans."

The news was discovered by Norwegian blog Mac1. U.S. blog 9 to 5 Mac picked up on it.

According to a translation to English via Google Translate, Mac1 said Polar Rose's software is similar to Apple's software for Google's Picasa or iPhoto for Mac OS X.

However, Polar Rose said on its Website that its technology also "enables automatic creation of events based on visual cues in images." To wit, Polar Rose offers three core products.

The FaceCloud server platform allows social networks and other vendors to add facial recognition to any Web service. The FaceLib mobile face recognition library is for Google's Android platform and Apple's iPhone. And FaceCore is Polar Cloud's core face detection and recognition module, which other companies would plug into their solutions.

The company also sports a Web-based photo-sharing system, a mobile photo browser, photo event creation and the augmented ID technology Recognizr.

Any one of those technologies could be useful to Apple, which is hungrily trying to expand its purview on the Web.

Apple could be particularly interested in appropriating FaceLib for its iPhone or iPad to get a leg up on Google's Goggles computer vision app.

Goggles lets users with Android smartphones search by snapping pictures of locations such as landmarks and objects such as wine bottles and other merchandise, or even art.

Goggles has yet to make its way onto the iPhone, a common hold-up for applications trying to find their way into Apple's scrupulous App Store.

The Polar Rose buy might be a good indication as to why, providing a differentiator for Apple. As GigaOm noted, Google has been reluctant to imbibe Goggles with facial recognition technology until it hashes out how to handle user privacy.

Theoretically, Goggles with added facial recognition could let users snap photos from smartphones of users on the street and call up information about that person from Facebook, LinkedIn or other information sources.

With Polar Rose, Apple could seek to provide this technology for its millions of iPhone and iPad users. It could also use the photo-sharing system, mobile photo browser and augmented ID technology to boost its popular smartphone.

Whatever Apple does, it will certainly be geared toward leveraging facial recognition for the mobile Web in a manner that captures Google's attention.