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

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member


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

  • Reply 2 of 46
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member


    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.

  • Reply 3 of 46
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,142member

    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. 

  • Reply 4 of 46
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,139member

    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.

  • Reply 5 of 46

    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.

  • Reply 6 of 46
    ankleskaterankleskater Posts: 1,287member

    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.

  • Reply 7 of 46
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member


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

  • Reply 8 of 46
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,588member

    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
  • Reply 9 of 46
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member


    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.
  • Reply 10 of 46
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,127member
    In what way is this a snub to google?
  • Reply 11 of 46
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member


    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'.

  • Reply 12 of 46
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    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.  

  • Reply 13 of 46
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    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

  • Reply 14 of 46
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    gazoobee wrote: »
    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.
  • Reply 15 of 46
    ankleskaterankleskater Posts: 1,287member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    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.
  • Reply 16 of 46

    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.

  • Reply 17 of 46
    saarek wrote: »
    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.
  • Reply 18 of 46
    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.
  • Reply 19 of 46

    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/

  • Reply 20 of 46
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    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.

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