Months after releasing its own Maps App to great fanfare (along with howls of criticism from users about the services’ shortcomings), Apple this week is showing it’s as deadly serious about mapping as ever, confirming that it has purchased indoor-mapping start-up WiFiSlam.
Apple was tight-lipped as usual about the purchase, with a spokesman telling Reuters that it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time.” Palo Alto-based WiFiSlam could not be reached immediately for comment. But a person said to be familiar with the deal told the Wall Street Journal that Apple paid around $20 million for the two-year-old start-up, whose technology provides indoor tracking for places like shopping malls.
The firm, which has a handful of employees and a co-founder in former Google software engineering intern Joseph Huang, pitches the product this way on AngelList:
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
The move, reported by Reuters and other outlets, is hardly a surprise, given the frenzy among big tech firms to not only help their users get around town but to harness GPS and sensors to assist them once they move indoors. Google Maps, for example, is widely used on Google’s Android platform and rival Apple’s iOS platform.
Giving Apple a run for the money, Google already offers indoor mapping in certain locations like airports, shopping centers and sports venues.
Google spokesman Nate Tyler told me the search giant has been improving, fine-tuning and deepening its mapping services for several years now, applying layer upon layer of mapping tools that let users drill down into a destination instead of having to stop out at the street.
Google Maps helps people get around large hard-to-navigate places like malls, airports and museums. Using the app, which is now available only on Android devices, you go beyond Street View and look inside a restaurant before you actually go there. So you can decide, for example, if you want to sit by a window or maybe near the bar. We’re very focused and excited about this new direction we’re going with maps.
While it was lucky to get scooped up by the Cupertino tech giant, WiFiSlam is just one of many similar startups in the area focused the past few years on providing indoor-mapping as well as other shopper-centric services piggybacked on the GPS technology. Sunnyvale-based Micello, for instance, had already entered the market in 2010, when CEO Ankit Agarwal explained to me how his app does for shopping centers and hospitals what Google maps have done for the world outside.
He described the app this way: A sort of interactive map that allows you to locate products inside a mall and then get walking directions to your destination. As I wrote back then, “it’s easy to use, with a clean interface that removes much of the aggravation shoppers experience as they navigate through the increasingly cluttered realm of the modern shopping center.”
As Agarwal put it back then:
You’re essentially carrying the mall directory in your pocket.