iPhone gets serious 'GPS-like' app

IndoorAtlas promises GPS-like location services without using GPS satellites

A novel location technology is headed to the iPhone for the first time, as app maker IndoorAtlas announced its Android app's move to iOS late last week. IndoorAtlas states that its technology can bring "GPS-like" location accuracy to mobile apps, even in interior settings with no access to GPS or GLONASS satellite networks.

The technology works by using the magnetometric sensors on devices like the iPhone to measure very small variations in the Earth’s magnetic field, translating it into positional data that – according to IndoorAtlas – is accurate to within about 6 feet. Those sensors are generally used to provide basic orientation information for things like compass apps.

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No connectivity – whether it’s to a cell tower or a Wi-Fi hotspot or a GPS satellite – is needed, the company advertises. Nor is IndoorAtlas distracted by the presence of ferrous metals in the surrounding environment, as Opus Research senior analyst Greg Sterling said that the technology appears to adjust for things like metal handrails or doorknobs.

The idea is the brainchild of Professor Janne Haverinen, of the University of Oulu in Finland. IndoorAtlas first launched the technology in the summer of 2012, with funding from Haverinen’s university and other public sources, and has been working towards an iOS release for some time.

The delay, according to Sterling, is likely due to Apple’s tough rules on what goes into the App Store.

“Apple is much more restrictive [than Google] in general about what it allows,” he said.

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While you can find the IndoorAtlas app for free on the App Store, it’s not that impressive to play around with yet. The real idea seems to be to market the technology to businesses in a number of verticals – the most obvious uses are in retail, and the company has demoed IndoorAtlas in just such an environment.

But CIOs of various stripes could benefit from the technology, according to Sterling, who specifically cited indoor analytics and several consumer-facing applications, like navigational help and customer service.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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