Apple has acquired mapping startup WiFiSlam, which is developing an indoor location service for smartphones, Apple said Monday.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment on its purpose in making the acquisition or its future plans for the company.
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Apple paid around US$20 million for the company, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing an unnamed source.
WiFiSlam allows smartphones to pinpoint their location to an accuracy of 2.5 meters using only ambient Wi-Fi signals that are already present in buildings, according to the company's AngelList profile. The company's website wifislam.com was down at the time of writing.
Applications for the service include step-by-step indoor navigation, proximity-based social networking, and the targeting of ads when users are standing in front of a product display, according to the profile.
Tim Coulling, senior analyst at Canalys, said Apple could use the technology for targeted advertising in shops or malls, or to guide a smartphone user on a museum tour or to their gate in an airport.
Because Apple has had a problem with mapping services this is a sensible acquisition. Nobody has really cracked indoor mapping yet, so Apple has a good chance to be just as good as Google or Nokia in this space, according to Coulling. Plus, the price they had to pay for it was not too high. "Twenty million is not much for Apple," he said.
Last November, Google introduced an indoor mapping service for Apple's iOS, and also offers an indoor location service for Android phones.
Indoor location businesses have been building over the last few years and all of the major players have a stake in this, said Jamie Moss, senior analyst at Informa telecoms & media. Apple's interest in indoor location services has come late, but by acquiring WiFiSlam and its intellectual property, Apple inherits the company's experience, making it as if it had been involved all along, Moss said.
Getting into the mapping business takes time though, Moss said. Apple didn't do a good job with it's own iOS mapping services, which it introduced to replace Google Maps, he added.
"One thing Apple needs to have learned from the Apple Maps fiasco is that you can't come straight to market with a solution that is going to be able to compete with the market leaders," he said. Apple needs to take the time to test new mapping services thoroughly before they bring them to market, he added.