Report: Apple Acquires Poly9 Mapping Company

According to reports from the Quebec City newspaper La Soleil, Apple (s aapl) has recently acquired Poly9, a Canadian online mapping design house. The employees have apparently relocated to Cupertino where they will work on Apple’s mapping team.

Poly9 developed, an online GIS tool, and a Flash-based virtual globe called Free Earth that was behind popular map visualization sites like the NORAD Santa Tracker and also powered waypoint tracking for Garmin Communicator, among other sites. You can still see Free Earth and the list of sites that use it at even though the main website at is down. Integration with other sites was possible through a JavaScript API that Poly9 developed.

Poly9 is the second big mapping acquisition for Apple. Last year, Placebase was also brought over into the fold as well. Placebase was a competitor to Google Maps that specialized in customizing the maps with customer data and locations. Placebase developed its own JavaScript API called PushPin to provide this customization.

The O’Reilly Report noted a link between Poly9 and Placebase back in 2007 when it pointed out that Free Earth was getting locations from the geodata marketplace available through the PushPin API. It seems clear now that Placebase and Poly9 have been aware of each other for at least a few years. It seems doubtful that Apple is acquiring the company for its Flash globe application, but a group of developers that is intimately familiar with the Placebase API, and capable of producing their own JavaScript API, which would be incredibly valuable to Apple if they are, as we suspect, in the midst of producing their own API for mapping data that developers could use in iOS and/or web apps.

Just yesterday, Om interviewed ex-Apple JavaScript guru Charles Jolley about the complimentary relationship between HTML5 and native iPhone apps. Jolley was heavily involved in the SproutCore JavaScript frameworks used on the MobileMe web apps.

It certainly seems likely that Apple is looking at native Cocoa and JavaScript APIs that could be used in web apps like MobileMe (think Find My iPhone) and iOS apps. It is particularly interesting that Poly9 and Placebase specialized in adding layers of data on top of maps, so that their customers could customize the mapping and globe applications to display all kinds of data. Such a framework for iOS would enable a whole new generation of apps that could take custom placemarks and points of interest and display those on top of the map.

The iPhone has already enabled location-based services like Fourquare, Gowalla, and others to expand their reach with customers that have location-aware, always-connected devices. The next version of iOS could have something even more exciting to make really useful mapping applications and interesting location-based services because the Poly9 and Placebase engineers will add their biological and technological distinctiveness to the Apple mothership.