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Apple acquires 3D mapping company C3 Technologies

Apple has extended its mapping services to a number of mapping companies over the past few years. The company has reportedly been working on building its own solution to maps and navigation on the iPhone, beginning with its acquisition of Placebase in 2009 and continuing with a "crowd-sourced traffic" service this year. Although Google and Apple have recently renewed their partnership and kept Google Maps in iOS 5, if Apple makes full use of its latest acquisition, Apple may have no need for Google's services for much longer. In fact, Apple may have something up its sleeve that makes Google Maps look like a dog's breakfast.

According to 9to5 Mac, back in August Apple acquired a Swedish 3D mapping firm called C3 Technologies. Former high-level heads of C3 are now all working within Apple's iOS division, though they're still doing all their work in Sweden. C3 Technologies uses some rather science-fictionish techniques to create photorealistic 3D maps with a breathtaking level of detail. Buildings, landmarks, and geographical features all render in 3D automatically, without mapmakers having to mock them up in CAD.

Using missile technology developed by the Swedish military, C3 Technologies' mapping service is able to create 3D maps with a stunning level of detail. Google Maps has Street View and a couple of other 3D-ish hackarounds, but it's got nothing on the level of what C3 Technologies has shown. This is no pipe dream service that may work on iOS devices someday; in one of the videos below you'll be able to see a C3 rep scrolling through a 3D representation of London in real time on an iPad. That video came out in February of 2011, and the technology is almost certainly even farther along now that Apple has thrown its resources into it.

If Apple is able to implement this tech into a homegrown Maps application, it would blow the current Google Maps app out of the water. The applications for 3D mapping at this level of detail go beyond its obvious utility as a navigation aid -- if third-party app developers were granted access to the Maps APIs, it could be a huge boon to game developers.

Evidence has been mounting for years that Apple is moving away from its dependence on Google for several internet services, presumably because the two companies now find themselves in the paradoxical situation of being direct competitors as well as partners. Apple has already branched out to Yahoo! and Bing for web searches (although Google remains the default), and Siri does an end run around Google for many of its search functions. If Apple can have this mapping technology available in time for iOS 6's release (presumably coming sometime in 2012), Apple may be able to extricate itself from Google Maps once and for all.

Below you can view a video showing an aerial view of Oslo rendered in 3D, plus a second video showing how well the service functioned on a first-gen iPad earlier this year.

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