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Apple Buys WiFiSLAM, Prepares to Compete With Google In Indoor Mapping Services

Apple Gobbles Up WiFiSLAM

[Photo Credit: Gizmodo UK]

A claim was made some time ago that Apple did not know what to do with its $137 billion + cash hoard. Apparently, Apple has spent some $20 million on a new toy: the acquisition of indoor mapping company WiFiSLAM. The announcement was confirmed by an Apple representative.

WiFiSLAM stands for “WiFi simultaneous localization and mapping,” a form of indoor GPS that allows you to know not only the physical address (number, street, zip code, highway, etc.) on which you are located, but also to know your whereabouts within buildings and large shopping centers. Google Maps and Apple’s Siri navigation help consumers drive down the street and know which way they’re going, but what about a large shopping center? Do you find yourself lost within a shopping mall?

I was the unfortunate recipient of this two weeks ago. I have the iPhone 4S and went to purchase the iPhone 5 at the local Apple Store. I am a major online shopper, so I have little use for malls these days (though I think they are great fitness workout areas!). I wanted to find my way to the Apple Store; since I walked in on the first floor, I had to use a store map (one of the large displays that makes you think of life in the 1990s) to travel to the second floor. Then, after buying my iPhone, my cousin and I needed to get to T-Mobile in order to upgrade my current phone plan (since the iPhone 4S did not have LTE capability and the iPhone 5 does). I kept thinking to myself, “I wish I had some sort of indoor mapping capability on my iPhone 4S (and then 5) so that I wouldn’t have to stop and stare at large maps to find my way around the large mall.” Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM will take care of this problem.

What is so special about this new company that Apple purchased? Indoor GPS is another untapped area of potential for the future. Companies that look to have an edge over other manufacturers must fortify their indoor GPS phone capabilities. Whereas quad-core processors, fast processor chips, GPUs, screen sizes, and screen resolution have been the high specs in tech, indoor GPS will become one of the top features of the future. Apple has done well to invest in indoor GPS, seeing that Google already holds the crown in Mapping Apps. I will not discuss the 3D Maps Fiasco with former iOS chief Scott Forstall.

Why indoor GPS? Indoor GPS is needed because GPS (acronymic for “Global Positioning Systems”) does not work everywhere. It may work great when you’re outside, but home automation has not caught up to the point where your every move inside buildings and centers can be detected. If you’re in a four-floor mall (similar to my local mall), you will need indoor GPS to help you find your way around. If you’re at a theme park (such as Carowinds, Kings’ Dominion, or Busch Gardens), you will not need to grab a paper map that you will probably lose after your first roller coaster ride. Instead, just hang onto your smartphone, and you will be able to know where you are at each moment. While indoor GPS will cater to locations inside buildings, it is possible that theme parks will develop location apps that help you find your way around their 50 exhibits (if they have not done this already). Kyle Frost explains that the “WiFi” in “WiFiSLAM” concerns your detection within buildings by way of WiFi signals. According to The Verge’s Jeff Blagdon, the new indoor GPS software will use routers available within the vicinity of where you are located to predict where you are. Currently, they are accurate up to eight feet (Jeff Blagdon, “Apple buys indoor navigation company WiFiSLAM”). How cool is that?

This would be quite a nice feature for Apple’s iPhone, and would be yet another tool in Apple’s toolbox of tech resources and software. These two companies, Google and Apple, constantly battle one another for supremacy in the tech world. After Google came out with Google Wallet, Apple responded by providing Passbook — which Cupertino now wants to become NFC enabled, according to recent patents. When Apple said last year at WWDC (June 2012) that it would bring its Siri voice command to vehicles in an “Eyes Free” program, Google responded by creating the autonomous car and test drove it in Nevada state. Google has had its Google Glass project known for some time, but this did not prevent Apple from filing its own Project Glass patent some time ago after Google. Apple’s supposed iWatch rumor has been running for at least six months, but the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple has a team of 100 engineers working on the project. Samsung, however, has a smartwatch in the works that may make it to market long before the iWatch does. Now, we’ve heard this month that Google looks to make a smartwatch; just this week, LG joined the excitement, as the company proclaimed it, too, would enter into the smartwatch race. It seems that, wherever one company goes, the others follow.

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