Québec City's Cyberpresse published a report stating that Apple has quietly purchased its hometown Poly9, referring to Poly9 as "les cerveaux de Québec," essentially "the brains of Québec." Poly9 makes, or, rather, made, the Poly9 Globe, a 3D globe map superficially similar to Google Earth, as well as an online GIS (Geographic Information Services) tool called MapSpread. So what does Apple want with this company?
The easy answer would be that Apple is developing its own mapping software to compete with the more established Google Maps and Bing Maps from Microsoft. After all, Google and Microsoft have their own mobile and desktop operating systems to support, and Google actually witholds some advanced features from its competitors--its inclusion of the excellent Google Maps Navigation (free turn-by-turn GPS directions) in Android, and its exclusion anywhere else, is a good example.
Even further, Apple acquired PlaceBase last year, the company resposible for the PushPin customization system which overlays information on other maps systems.
But I'm hesitant to think Apple has anything so difficult in mind as a Google Maps competitor. Apple has no experience in that sort of data gathering, and both PlaceBase and Poly9 are pretty small companies. Poly9, in fact, uses other companies' data, including Google's, to supply their maps. I doubt Apple would replace the ubiquitous and powerful Google Maps with a less capable competitor out of spite. In fact, Apple has dissolved Poly9, shut down its website (though its API survives on a few other sites), and moved all its employees but two to Cupertino (a nice move for Poly9--I've been in Québec City in the winter, and even the thought of it now gives me brainfreeze).
I suspect Apple does have some advanced location-based plans for these engineers, but I don't think Apple Maps is in the future. Location is the hottest buzzword on the block these days, and it makes sense for Apple to seek out some talented designers to help bring iOS a location-based shot in the arm. Maybe they want to launch their own turn-by-turn maps system, to remove one of Android's major advantages over the iPhone. Maybe they want to add in more geotagging options in first-party apps. There are tons of possibilities--I just don't think Apple Maps is one of the likelier ones.