Apple buying face-recognition company Polar Rose?

A report in Computer Sweden (Swedish) has Apple snapping up Swedish facial recognition company Polar Rose in a deal worth about $29 million—or, at least, if the deal hasn’t gone through already, it should soon. Neither company has confirmed the acquisition, with an Apple spokesperson only saying that Apple does sometimes buy smaller companies.

The reports have triggered the usual avalanche of speculation about what Apple might do with Polar Rose’s facial recognition technology. Although Apple has already built facial recognition software into its iPhoto photo management application (part of its iLife application suite), Polar Rose offers two components that might be of particular interest to Apple: FaceLib, a facial recognition library for iPhone and Android phones that could be used to add facial recognition to mobile apps, and their flagship FaceCloud server platform that offers cloud-based facial recognition services. Polar Rose’s technology has focused on working with candid and casual photos—the kinds of things people take with mobile phones and upload to social networking sites.

Industry watchers speculate that Apple may be interested in adding face-based authentication to mobile devices like the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad; similarly, the company might be looking at augmenting its Mobile Me hosting services with facial recognition, or adding face recognition to a number of mobile applications, such as its new FaceTime video chat application.

Polar Rose recently shut down a free Web-based facial recognition service it had been running for years, ostensibly so it could focus on licensing its technologies to third parties.

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