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Apple's $20M purchase of WiFiSLAM snubs Google's Android for indoor map tech

post #1 of 47
Thread Starter 
Apple's latest acquisition, WiFiSLAM, was an Android-centric indoor location positioning tool for developers that has now been taken off the market.

Apple has a history of shutting down the public facing services of companies it acquires, a strategy that has unsurprisingly continued with its latest purchase of indoor GPS company WiFiSLAM. The company's Android software development kit allowed applications for Google's mobile platform to receive precise indoor location with their own third-party applications.

WiFiSLAM


The company had an SDK for Apple's iOS in the works, but those plans were discontinued after Apple disabled Wi-Fi scanning in iOS 5.

Nav Patel, who is the creative director and product engineer at WiFiSLAM, explained in a forum post at Hacker News last year that his company's service could still operate on jailbroken iOS devices, which are hacked to run unauthorized code. But Patel admitted that WiFiSLAM was not interested in supporting jailbreak developers, as it is "not a big target audience."

At the time, WiFiSLAM reportedly had a "workaround" in development that would incorporate iOS devices with its service. But by the time Apple's purchase of WiFiSLAM was made public this week, there was no indication that a public release of the workaround was imminent.

WiFiSLAM's connections to Google go beyond Android, and extend into both personnel and funding. One of the company's founding members, Darin Tay, joined the company after a two-year stint with Google, while current Google employee Don Dodge is an angel investor in WiFiSLAM.

Google already offers its own indoor mobile maps through the company's Google Maps service. They include maps of locations such as shopping malls and airports.

Google has even taken its famous "Street View" to new locations such as businesses, monuments, stadiums, and even underwater.

WiFiSLAM
WiFiSLAM on Android with a mall map, via The Guardian.


Apple's purchase of WiFiSLAM is a sign that the company is continuing to bolster its own proprietary mapping software for iPhone and iPad, which launched last year with the debut of iOS 6. Apple Maps were instantly met with derision from a vocal group of users who felt Apple's solution was inferior to Google Maps.

Before it was taken offline completely, WiFiSLAM's website claimed it could calculate a user's precise indoor location in as little as 90 seconds. The service allows mobile applications to detect a user's locations by analyzing Wi-Fi signals in a building.

Apple already uses a similar method to pinpoint a user's location more quickly than GPS satellites can accomplish. While a GPS signal can take several minutes to attain, crowd-sourcing known Wi-Fi hotspots can dramatically reduce the time needed.

"These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple," the company explained in 2011.
post #2 of 47

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

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post #3 of 47
Originally Posted by mstone View Post
So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

That, I think, would be rather foolish.

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post #4 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

What on earth would lead you to that conclusion? Of course they will incorporate the technology, in one way or another. 

post #5 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

That, I think, would be rather foolish.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post

 

What on earth would lead you to that conclusion? Of course they will incorporate the technology, in one way or another. 

That same thought process, or lack thereof, is why I blocked that person long ago.

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post #6 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Originally Posted by mstone View Post
So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

That, I think, would be rather foolish.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

What on earth would lead you to that conclusion? Of course they will incorporate the technology, in one way or another. 

 

Apple's track record is pretty good as to technology purchases...

 

Fingerworks, Siri -- to name a couple...

 

MS is more known for  giving the "fatal embrace"  to purchased technology.

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post #7 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

 

 

 

Apple's track record is pretty good as to technology purchases...

 

Fingerworks, Siri -- to name a couple...

 

MS is more known for  giving the "fatal embrace"  to purchased technology.


I agree with the implied notion that Apple is not fundamentally interested in acquiring companies with the intent to stifle technology. In today's world, this is not a particularly effective technique anyhow.

 

Having said that, I believe Tim Cook is on record as saying they acquire a company every month, most of which not making the news. So I am not sure we really know what their track record is in commercializing what they acquire.

post #8 of 47

Why wouldn't Apple incorporate this technology? Similar technology has been in Nokia Maps for several years. It's obviously useful data for people.

post #9 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by ankleskater View Post


Having said that, I believe Tim Cook is on record as saying they acquire a company every month, most of which not making the news. So I am not sure we really know what their track record is in commercializing what they acquire.

I don't know that this list is complete, but in general I think Dan's comment is accurate.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Apple
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post #10 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post



Apple's track record is pretty good as to technology purchases...

Fingerworks, Siri -- to name a couple...

MS is more known for  giving the "fatal embrace"  to purchased technology.

Don't forget P.A. Semi and NeXT.

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post #11 of 47
In what way is this a snub to google?
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post #12 of 47
Originally Posted by saarek View Post
In what way is this a snub to google?

 

Were it a purchase for purchase's sake, I'd say it would be an outright snub, but as long as we have the impression that they're going to do something with it, it's more of an 'in your face'.

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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post #13 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

I don't come to that conclusion at all, at least not based on this article, but it might be better that way.  

 

Google has a "tool" (app) that lets' you map indoor spaces and upload it to Google maps, I see this as probably Apple's tool to do the same thing (it can only be than Google's), or ... integrate it into maps if that's possible.  

 

The big problem I see with integration is that a user would be "mapping" just by walking around, so that will cue the privacy advocates to scream blue murder and shut the whole thing down.  For that reason I think a stand alone tool might be the way they go.  

post #14 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

What on earth would lead you to that conclusion? Of course they will incorporate the technology, in one way or another. 

Because the technique they used for scanning WiFi is not allowed on iOS

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post #15 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

I don't come to that conclusion at all, at least not based on this article, but it might be better that way.  

Google has a "tool" (app) that lets' you map indoor spaces and upload it to Google maps, I see this as probably Apple's tool to do the same thing (it can only be than Google's), or ... integrate it into maps if that's possible.  

The big problem I see with integration is that a user would be "mapping" just by walking around, so that will cue the privacy advocates to scream blue murder and shut the whole thing down.  For that reason I think a stand alone tool might be the way they go.  

That would be interesting if Apple did anonymized indoor location data like they did with their anonymized outdoor location data. I just hope there isn't a big stink like last time for anonymized data you can opt out of.



PS: I hit my head on the bathroom sink while standing on the toilet to hang a clock. When I came to I had a premonition about an Apple event a week in the future.

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post #16 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy View Post

I don't know that this list is complete, but in general I think Dan's comment is accurate.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Apple

I'd say the list is quite incomplete. But that is no surprise given their cone of silence.
post #17 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

So basically they just took them off the market but are probably not planning to incorporate their technology into Apple Maps.

 

What on earth would lead you to that conclusion? Of course they will incorporate the technology, in one way or another. 

Because the technique they used for scanning WiFi is not allowed on iOS

 

It is not available to 3rd-party developers, but it is available to Apple developers.  There are privacy and security implications with this capability.  I am sure that Apple would want to sanitize it, like Location Services, before making the API available.

 

Apple may choose, instead, to offer it as a System Service ala Siri and Maps.

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post #18 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by saarek View Post

In what way is this a snub to google?

Neil Hughes couldn't think of a better way to inject "Google" or "Samsung" into the article for the troll bait value.

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post #19 of 47
Well done to WifiSlam for getting in there. There are other innovative indoor location companies out there which could compliment such services, for example sensewhere. Their integrated sensors/Wi-Fi/GPS/BT solution uses these hybrid technologies to complement each other in both automatic crowd sourcing and improving user experience everywhere including areas where there is poor or no signal coverage.
Either way, the indoor positioning is clearly heating up and there is lots to get excited about in the near future!

You can email me directly: a.majek at sensewhere.
post #20 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post



Apple's track record is pretty good as to technology purchases...

Fingerworks, Siri -- to name a couple...

MS is more known for  giving the "fatal embrace"  to purchased technology.

Don't forget P.A. Semi and NeXT.

 

Yeah... And Final Cut nee KeyGrip from MacroMedia

 

http://nofilmschool.com/2011/12/avid-apple-excerpt-timeline-history/

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post #21 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

It is not available to 3rd-party developers, but it is available to Apple developers.  There are privacy and security implications with this capability.  I am sure that Apple would want to sanitize it, like Location Services, before making the API available.

 

Apple may choose, instead, to offer it as a System Service ala Siri and Maps.

Perhaps, but Apple has chosen not to acquire or provide any of their own data in Apple Maps but instead gets all their outdoor data from third party vendors. Why do you think they would just now be interested in owning location data for indoor maps? I am not all that impressed with the WiFiSLAM process of having to obtain and upload a floor plan. Floor plans change, stores open and close in malls, wifi hot spots change, or are replaced with stronger signals, you have to select the floor of the building manually. This just doesn't seem like an Apple "just works" type of technology.


Edited by mstone - 3/25/13 at 11:07am

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post #22 of 47
Hopefully, they will publish the necessary APIs for developers as I would like to see Wi-Fi scanning apps in the App Store.

This is an interesting purchase considering Apple hasn't made some other arguably more important purchases:
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post #23 of 47

I've used more than one iPhone app that shows a satellite map of the property instead of a map of the stores and restaurants inside the building.  The Mandalay Bay app for example.  Completely useless for finding the coffee shop.  It would be more useful to simply show a static graphic of the floorplan.  The WiFiSLAM technology could fix that.

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post #24 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Because the technique they used for scanning WiFi is not allowed on iOS

Nonsense. You're using that as a reason why Apple wouldn't incorporate WiFi into Maps? Apple sets the rules - they can easily choose to use WiFi if they wish.

They do not allow third parties to do so, I believe, but that won't affect them.

The real problem, of course, is that 10,000 bloggers will start talking about Apple violating everyone's privacy by using WiFi signals to localize people.
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post #25 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Perhaps, but Apple has chosen not to acquire or provide any of their own data in Apple Maps but instead gets all their outdoor data from third party vendors. Why do you think they would just now be interested in owning location data for indoor maps? I am not all that impressed with the WiFiSLAM process of having to obtain and upload a floor plan. Floor plans change, stores open and close in malls, wifi hot spots change, or are replaced with stronger signals, you have to select the floor of the building manually. This just doesn't seem like an Apple "just works" type of technology.

 

 

Agreed. Apple just hasn't proven themselves yet as being able to deliver on mapping.  But perhaps this purchase indicates a commitment.  I would definitely use indoor mapping if it was based on accurate, up-to-date information.  The question is how do they hope to get this?  It's one thing to be able to determine where you are in a building by scanning wifi access points.  It's a whole different thing to keep up with changing storefronts in a mall or the layout of a temporary trade show.

post #26 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


Nonsense. You're using that as a reason why Apple wouldn't incorporate WiFi into Maps? Apple sets the rules - they can easily choose to use WiFi if they wish.

They do not allow third parties to do so, I believe, but that won't affect them.

The real problem, of course, is that 10,000 bloggers will start talking about Apple violating everyone's privacy by using WiFi signals to localize people.

 

Right.  But hopefully Apple has learned their lesson when they had to put out this fire the first time and be sure to not capture the data permanently locally or on their servers.

 

I just hope they don't pull what they did with transit in their Maps app.  There is obviously demand for wifi scanning for location purposes.  Apple could just use this tech to create an API for developers to include in their own apps instead of actually incorporating it into their mapping application.  Then I'd need a separate app for every mall I visit or show I attend.

post #27 of 47
I still think, regarding MS' fatal embrace, that there should be a law that if you buy a company and don't use it's IP in a relevant product, the IP gets public domain...

After all, while private property is an essential basis of modern society, "the public good" is the basis for any society, and "fatal embrace" is a clear damage to said society...

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post #28 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post


Neil Hughes couldn't think of a better way to inject "Google" or "Samsung" into the article for the troll bait value.


I rarely defend Ai per se, but I think it was rightly said. This _was_ imho an useful Google-pawn that they just lost.

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post #29 of 47
Just watched a Youtube video about the wifiSLAM technology. This is a great purchase by Apple. Shutting down Android's use of the technology was a logical first step after the acquisition.

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post #30 of 47
Y
Quote:
Originally Posted by lightknight View Post


I rarely defend Ai per se, but I think it was rightly said. This _was_ imho an useful Google-pawn that they just lost.
Yes, but you're taking his reply out of context. He was replying to my question as to how this move is a "snub" to google.

A snub is: °A deliberate affront or slight.
"I hope the people we couldn't invite don't see it as a snub."

So, how is Apple purchasing a company and then using the tech they bought solely for themselves a snub?
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post #31 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

I don't come to that conclusion at all, at least not based on this article, but it might be better that way.  

Google has a "tool" (app) that lets' you map indoor spaces and upload it to Google maps, I see this as probably Apple's tool to do the same thing (it can only be than Google's), or ... integrate it into maps if that's possible.  

The big problem I see with integration is that a user would be "mapping" just by walking around, so that will cue the privacy advocates to scream blue murder and shut the whole thing down.  For that reason I think a stand alone tool might be the way they go.  

That would be interesting if Apple did anonymized indoor location data like they did with their anonymized outdoor location data. I just hope there isn't a big stink like last time for anonymized data you can opt out of.



PS: I hit my head on the bathroom sink while standing on the toilet to hang a clock. When I came to I had a premonition about an Apple event a week in the future.

 

NAB is April 6 - 11 in Las Vegas.  A new FCPX and Mac Pro are due and could drop then, or slightly before...

 

P.S.  You must have a really high sink (or low toilet)

 

P.P.S.  How can you tell time while seated (or need to know the time while standing)?

 

P.P.P.S  an iWatch would solve [most] all your problems

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post #32 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Because the technique they used for scanning WiFi is not allowed on iOS


Once Apple buys a company the technology is incorporated into iOS. Rules for third-party software don't apply anymore.

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post #33 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by jd_in_sb View Post

Just watched a Youtube video about the wifiSLAM technology. This is a great purchase by Apple. Shutting down Android's use of the technology was a logical first step after the acquisition.

Link to video?

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post #34 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


Link to video?


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGdvjvla1Tc

 

It is pretty dry but about half way through it starts to get interesting as they describe how they can take advantage of seemingly-useless information around you to calculate your location using a variety of sources like wi-fi signal strength, accelerometer, gyroscope and even the magnetometer.

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post #35 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by jd_in_sb View Post

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGdvjvla1Tc

It is pretty dry but about half way through it starts to get interesting as they describe how they can take advantage of seemingly-useless information around you to calculate your location using a variety of sources like wi-fi signal strength, accelerometer, gyroscope and even the magnetometer.

The one Dick linked yesterday then. Almost unwatchable unless you're reee-ally interested in it. The official videos were pulled recently.
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post #36 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by jd_in_sb View Post

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGdvjvla1Tc

It is pretty dry but about half way through it starts to get interesting as they describe how they can take advantage of seemingly-useless information around you to calculate your location using a variety of sources like wi-fi signal strength, accelerometer, gyroscope and even the magnetometer.

There's also a few whitepapers describing how it would work, altho not specific to WiFiSLAM. This is one of them that's pretty thorough. For this one they used an Android phone but that's not necessary to the implementation. There's also papers from Microsoft and others.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CEYQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhkr.diva-portal.org%2Fsmash%2Fget%2Fdiva2%3A475619%2FFULLTEXT02&ei=WKlQUZaUBYqmqwGqiIAY&usg=AFQjCNHAPre6s5CjVE2_dShmjzi8Ylgotw&sig2=5R_s9aKC3s-OucvJzzEqXg&bvm=bv.44158598,d.b2U
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post #37 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Perhaps, but Apple has chosen not to acquire or provide any of their own data in Apple Maps but instead gets all their outdoor data from third party vendors. Why do you think they would just now be interested in owning location data for indoor maps? I am not all that impressed with the WiFiSLAM process of having to obtain and upload a floor plan. Floor plans change, stores open and close in malls, wifi hot spots change, or are replaced with stronger signals, you have to select the floor of the building manually. This just doesn't seem like an Apple "just works" type of technology.

Apple used to get GPS location data for the first couple of iPhones from Skyhook. Then it accumulated the information itself. Worth noting that Skyhook is suing Google for interference of contract, and misappropriating its data. It also initially used a third parties music software to integrate with iPods on Windows.

Just because Apple is relying on third party data now doesn't mean it always will.
post #38 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by saarek View Post

In what way is this a snub to google?


It's a snub to Android because WiFiSLAM had an android SDK and now they won't. Up until it's sale it was android only (after iOS5) save for the unofficial iOS Jailbreaking that allowed it to work. It's a snub to android because devs had the option to write WiFiSLAM into their apps and now it's gone.

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post #39 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

It is not available to 3rd-party developers, but it is available to Apple developers.  There are privacy and security implications with this capability.  I am sure that Apple would want to sanitize it, like Location Services, before making the API available.

 

Apple may choose, instead, to offer it as a System Service ala Siri and Maps.

Perhaps, but Apple has chosen not to acquire or provide any of their own data in Apple Maps but instead gets all their outdoor data from third party vendors. Why do you think they would just now be interested in owning location data for indoor maps? I am not all that impressed with the WiFiSLAM process of having to obtain and upload a floor plan. Floor plans change, stores open and close in malls, wifi hot spots change, or are replaced with stronger signals, you have to select the floor of the building manually. This just doesn't seem like an Apple "just works" type of technology.

 

We don't know what Apple is doing with the PlaceBase/PushPin Mapping company they bought -- but,  likely, it was not for map generation.  One of the important assets, AIR, is the contractual access to lots of demographic data.  AFAICT, the following site uses PlaceBase/PushPin as a backend for the services it provides.

 

http://www.policymap.com/

 

If you watch the very end of that difficult and long video...  they touch on several things:

 

  • The store, or building, or floor can upload a floor plan -- Apple does not have to "obtain the floor plan" or otherwise be involved in this process, other than an upload app and a Server (iCloud).  The floor plan does not need to be in any specific format (just displayable).
  •  
  • Floorplans (and product placment within stores) do change -- as do spreadsheets, charts keynote preso's -- they are easy to upload/save.
  •  
  • WiFi hotspots do change and are replaced with stronger (or weaker and additional signals) -- during the day or over time.  But WiFiSlam uses an amalgamation of all the "noise" in a spot to fingerprint that location.  Apparently, based on probability, it can identify where you are (and what floor) within 8.2 feet.
  •  
  • They discussed using magnetic field and camera data for the spot -- to refine the accuracy of the fingerprint.  Then the mobile device movement (location) can be determined on the device, alone, with no access to any WiFi, Cell, GPS... Just using the compass, accelerometer, magnometer and (optionally) the camera.
  •  
  • The technology can generate an unique path segment  through a building by someone traversing that segment.  Once done, another path segment generated by anyone else traversing any part of the first path segment is recognized -- and the 2 path segments are combined, ad infinitum... kind of like DNA matching.
  •  
  • They briefly discussed using the path generation capability (maybe crowd sourced) to be able to determine the layout with out a floor plan -- many paths stop at point A, and don't go beyond in a straight line -- means that there is a good probability that there is a wall or some other barrier (prison bars) beyond point A.  They showed how this could be used determine where the halls, doors and classrooms were in a university building.

 

 

Look at it this way -- Each 8.2 foot cell within a building (regardless of floor) has an unique "noise fingerprint" (WiFi, radio/TV/cell/magnetic waves, etc.).  Your mobile device can detect and gather the noise (and possibly generate the fingerprint).  Then send a short query (by whatever means are available) to an Apple server.  The Apple server could identify the fingerprint and respond with:

  1. where you are
  2. where you are likely to go (the paths available to you)
  3. the path traversal DNA

 

So, you now can traverse the paths and monitor your location without involving the servers or being tracked (unless you want to be).  Should you approach any extremity of your traversal DNA, the mobile device could ask you (or automatically) update the 3 steps above.


Edited by Dick Applebaum - 3/25/13 at 4:34pm
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"The perfect [birth]day -- A little playtime, a good poop, and a long nap." - Tomato Greeting Cards -
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post #40 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

Look at it this way -- Each 8.2 foot cell within a building (regardless of floor) has an unique "noise fingerprint" (WiFi, radio/TV/cell/magnetic waves, etc.).  Your mobile device can detect and gather the noise (and possibly generate the fingerprint).  

Quick question: What sensors does the iPhone have to detect radio, TV and magnetic waves?

 

The thing about the floor plan. Apple would never allow all different odd ball poorly drawn diagrams to be displayed. They would all have to match. They would also have to be validated and official.

 

This is what I was thinking when I first heard about the technology, of course it turned out not to be the case.

 

I thought of Apple partnering with building management to install lots of specifically designed WiFi hotspots throughout the public buildings at precisely identified coordinates. That way they could be used for determining location very accurately. I imagined this to work sort of like street view where Google sends an official data acquisition team to the location. I would love to see Apple take responsibility for their own map data, keep it up to date and have full control over it.

 

As this WiFiSlam technology is now being revealed, I like it less every time I read more detail about it.

 

 

I wish that Apple would spend some of their cash to start building out city wide WiFi networks that were free and only available for Apple devices. That way we really could cut the cord as you wouldn't even need a cable carrier for broadband. 

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Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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