Apple has purchased Web mapping software startup Poly9, which could mean the secretive company is looking to offer its own version of Google Earth.
Poly9 makes Poly9 Globe, which it advertises here as a cross-browser, cross-platform 3D globe that does not require any download. Google Earth provides similar mapping technology, but requires users to download a plug-in to access it.
Apple did not respond to confirm or deny the purchase, originally reported here by La Soleil newspaper in Quebec City.
La Soleil said all but two of the company’s employees relocated to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters to work on Apple’s Web mapping team.
Poly9 marks the second mapping acquisition Apple quietly tucked in since acquiring Placebase last summer. Placebase made an API used to layer commercial and other data sets, such as demographics and crime data, onto maps. The application competed with Google Maps, which Apple still uses as the go-to mapping application for its iPhone smartphone.
It is unclear whether Apple will continue to endorse Google’s applications when it can offer its own brand of the same apps. Apple has been snapping up startups in a number of areas in which Google plays, even getting into online advertising by acquiring Quattro Wireless.
What is clear is that Google is facing a rival in Apple that is serious about the Web, particularly on the mobile front where its iPhone has staked a major claim and its iPad is blazing a trail for tablet computer.
To taste some of Apple’s success, companies are building smartphones and tablets based on Google’s Android operating system.