Apple has bought WifiSLAM, a company providing indoor mobile location services, which lets people figure out their location inside a building using the strength of its Wi-Fi signals.
Indoor mobile location is a burgeoning field as more and more people use their smartphones inside buildings – with at least two Finnish companies, Walkbase and IndoorAtlas, offering their own systems for zeroing in on where they are, and a map of their surroundings.
Apple confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it had bought the company, though it didn’t comment on the estimated $20m price tag. It said that it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time”.
WifiSLAM uses the variation in different networks’ Wi-Fi signal strengths to triangulate the user’s location. The company co-founders include a former Google staffer, and has backing from Don Dodge, who worked at both Google and Microsoft.
Walkbase has been developing its offering since 2009, and presently has an Android app offering. IndoorAtlas uses variations in the earth’s magnetic field to determine the user’s location – meaning it doesn’t rely on Wi-Fi or other data, and doesn’t need hardware.
Finnish mobile phone company Nokia already offers Destination Maps, an indoor mapping service.
For Apple, improving its maps offering has become increasingly important since it dumped Google’s mapping service for its iPhone and iPad products last September. That met with widespread criticism, and forced chief executive Tim Cook to issue a grovelling apology, and saw the ousting of Scott Forstall, who had been in charge of the iPhone software division, and of the head of the mapping team.