Apple Wants To Track Users Indoors With WiFiSLAM Mapping
March 25, 2013

Apple Wants To Track Users Indoors With WiFiSLAM Mapping

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

In an effort to improve their troubled Maps application, Apple has announced their acquisition of indoor location company WifiSLAM. Using available nearby Wi-Fi hotspots, WifiSLAM is able to accurately determine a user´s location indoors. This technology is particularly useful in shopping malls or other large buildings.

It´s been suggested that Apple will use this technology to help them compete against other mapping applications, specifically Google. WifiSLAM has a few ties with Google; a former Google software engineering intern, Joseph Huang, is one of the company´s cofounders. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google employee Don Dodge is also listed as one of WifiSLAM´s angel investors.

Though neither of the companies have released any financial details, one person familiar with the matter told the Journal that Apple paid an estimated $20 million for the startup company. An Apple spokesperson later confirmed the deal, but only said that the Cupertino company “buys smaller technology companies from time to time.”

Though the parties involved are remaining tightlipped on the matter, many are predicting this acquisition is Apple´s way of adding a feature to their Maps application which Google currently offers.

According to PCMag, Google´s map offerings include more than 10,000 different floor plans for buildings in 13 countries. Google´s mobile map application works differently than Apple´s new WifiSLAM, however.

WifiSLAM only uses Wi-Fi hotspots to determine a users specific location. For instance, as a user walks through the mall, their phone´s Wi-Fi radio constantly seeks out nearby hotspots. As the user´s location changes, WifiSLAM measures the strength of each hotspot and uses this to determine location. The WifiSLAM Website is currently down, (assumedly due to the acquisition) but according to PCMag the company says they´re technology is accurate to 2.5 meters, or 2.73 yards.

Apple´s old and Google-driven mapping application could also use Wi-Fi hotspots to determine location on devices without a GPS signal, such as the iPod Touch.

Apple famously kicked Google´s mapping data to the curb last year when they released their very own application with data from TomTom and Waze. When the new Maps app was released with iOS 6, those first to upgrade tried out the new application and found it lacking. These issues mainly affected users outside of the US and included incorrect location data, missing locations, or incorrect location description.

In accordance with today´s Internet norms, an entire meme had been created around demoing Apple´s faulty Maps.

Google-owned Motorola Mobility began using the Twitter hashtag “#iLost” to promote Android´s mapping applications. Then, less than ten days after iOS 6´s release, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an apology and even suggested several other mapping applications for iPhone users to try while the company worked to improve their own offering.

This acquisition could be a sign that Apple plans to offer indoor maps in an upcoming version of Maps. Apple could also use this technology to ensure that their application is the most precise when finding the location of an Apple-branded device. Find My iPhone, Apple´s celebrated app meant to find lost devices, could stand to benefit the most from this acquisition.