Apple recently bought a small company called WiFiSLAM for a little over $20 million. WiFiSLAM is GPS technology that completely depends on WiFi Signals that are commonly prevalent in and around the buildings. WiFiSLAM claims that the technology can be applied in wide variety of areas such as in-door navigation, proximity-based social networking and product-level consumer-retailer engagment platforms. That’s a mouthful. But what it essentially claims is that the technology will enable accurate location tracking in the areas (read indoors) that were beyond the reach of satellites till now. What’s interesting is the accuracy that WiFiSLAM brings to the table. The technology allows anyone to pinpoint a location to the tune of just 2.5 meters on a real-time basis.
So, Why did Apple purchase this company? What plans do Apple have with this technology? There is no official answer from Apple. But one can easily speculate that Apple wants to catch up with Google in terms of indoor navigation capabilities. Looks like google has secretely amassed more than 10,000 floor plans of various locations spread across 13 different countries (as listed here). Google has built this “indoor maps availability” using a combination of WiFi hotspot triangulation and the regular network level triangulation to come up with accurate location detection even at indoors of major shopping complexes. Once this capability is matured enough, Google will unlock various possibilities and business opportunities that were previously unrealistic. Apple does not want to sit tight and pray. So, acquisition of WiFiSLAM seems to be the step in that direction – to build indoor navigational capability.
Beyond the basic technology, the real value will accrue to whomsoever that compiles the map floors of as many major buildings across the world. So, the race is essentially of land grab here. Google’s map capabilities are way superior and much more comprehensive and accurate than any other map solutions that are available in the market. Google might even provide some amazing augmented reality offerings to the end consumers very soon. Apple had some head-start with natural language voice assistant called SIRI. Apple wants to provide more information and intelligence to SIRI. The technology that they acquired will provide one such information and capability to SIRI – an accurate locational awareness.
This is how WiFiSLAM describe themselves:
“Allow your smartphone to pinpoint its location (and the location of your friends) in real-time to 2.5m accuracy using only ambient WiFi signals that are already present in buildings.
We are building the next generation of location-based mobile apps that, for the first time, engage with users at the scale that personal interaction actually takes place. Applications range from step-by-step indoor navigation, to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking.”