updated 11:47 pm EDT, Sat March 23, 2013
Technology uses Wi-Fi signals for positioning when GPS absent
Apple has purchased a small Silicon Valley startup, WiFiSLAM, that specializes in extending location data and positioning to indoor locations using Wi-Fi triangulation when GPS information is not available, according to the Wall Street Journal. The deal, worth $20 million, is expected to supplement Apple's Maps application and compete with Google's crowdsourced "Indoor Maps" project. Currently, the "Indoor Maps" project is limited to large-crowd locations such as airports, stadiums and shopping centers.
WiFiSLAM boasted that its technology could locate users (and their friends) to within 2.5 meters (about eight feet) and offered "step-by-step" indoor navigation and proximity-based social networking. Apple confirmed the deal but said little about it, noting that the company "buys smaller technology companies from time to time." WiFiSLAM had originally intended for its technology to be leveraged by developers, social networks and advertisers -- for example notifying a user who walks into a grocery store what specials or coupons were available.
The company is described as having a "handful" of employees, but includes former Google employee Joseph Huang and former Google engineer Darin Tay, along with Nav Patel of The Shared Web. Investors include Earthlink founder Sky Dayton and angel investor Don Dodge, also formerly with Google. Apple has focused heavily on improving its Maps program since its debut last fall, and the program recently beat both Google Maps and a crowdsourced map program called Waze in a driving-based test conducted by PC Magazine.