Apple may well use its purchase of indoor-GPS company WiFiSLAM to shore up its much-criticized Maps app for the iPhone and iPad, but the news also points to a larger trend in mobile app use.
Apple paid about $20 million for the Silicon Valley startup, according to the Wall Street Journal. WifiSLAM’s technology helps mobile apps detect a the smartphone or tablet user’s location within a building using WiFi signals.
To date, the company has pitching its tech to app developers for indoor mapping and new ways to navigate retail locations.
What the typically-secretive Apple plans to do with WiFiSLAM isn’t known. Rival Google already offers indoor mapping for some airports, shopping centers and sports stadiums. Apple’s Maps was released last year to poor reviews and the company has been busy working to improve it.
On the website of an investor group that had backed the company, WiFiSLAM says: “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.”
Meanwhile, ABI Research says Apple’s purchase is only one example of what it expects to be a rapidly growing area for developers in the space.
“Analyzing across 10 retail sectors, we are seeing a lot of cross pollination as companies combine handset and infrastructure based Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and sensor location technologies,” said ABI Research senior analyst Patrick Connolly.
“The emergence of public venue small cells and carrier Wi-Fi will also create a new wave of opportunity. As a result, we expect to see a flurry of acquisitions and partnerships in 2013, as major players start to make their moves.”
Longer term, ABI Research says indoor location apps will be supplemented by in-store advertising to help help retailers market their goods directly to the shopper and “improve customer engagement.”