On Monday, it was announced that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had acquired the WiFi-based location services company WiFiSlam, and now it seems clear that Apple is taking a serious look at the future of mapping.
When Apple launched its own map service with iOS 6 last year — removing Google Maps from its preloaded app lineup — the service was filled with bugs, inaccuracies, and visual glitches. When it comes to maps, accuracy is obviously quite vital, and the original Apple Maps application was found to be lacking. The failure even warranted an apology from Apple CEO Tim Cook. The company has since been working to improve Apple Maps with a steady roll-out of updates.
However, the $20 million acquisition of WiFiSlam doesn’t seem likely to be a part of Apple’s process to resolve outstanding issues with its maps. But it could be part of Apple’s move into the future areas of mapping: indoors.
To recap: WiFiSlam is a tech company that developed a type of GPS that uses WiFi signals to track the position of users instead of using GPS satellites or cellphone towers. This gives the technology the ability to go places that other tracking systems cannot. Since WiFi systems can easily be placed throughout buildings, while cellphone signals and GPS tracking are much more limited indoors, WiFiSlam has a big advantage for implementing tracking systems inside places such as malls and other retail locations.
With this technology, Apple could be on the road to competing toe-to-toe with Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) maps on the next frontier of GPS.
Google has already begun working on mapping out indoor locations in order to make it easier for Google Maps users to find what they’re looking for when they go into places like malls or airports or Las Vegas casinos. The company reportedly has some 10,000 indoor locations mapped already, and it will likely continue to build upon that.
Apple may have a ways to go before it catches up with Google Maps, but it’s clear that that iPhone maker is trying. It has been working to fix its maps with update and enhance them with features, like 3D flyover maps. Indoor mapping could be the next step of maps for mobile devices, and Apple is clearly prepared to go there.
The move to get WiFiSlam now, even though Apple Maps has unresolved issues, is a smart move, as the company can now push forward with its maps while also fixing old errors. In this way, Apple won’t have to play as much catch-up once it finishes resolving outstanding issues with its maps.
Google and Apple are already in quite a power struggle, and maps are just an additional battlefront that Apple opened up. Considering Apple’s share of smartphone users in the U.S., improvements to Apple Maps and its user-base could hurt Google Maps at home. However, Google does still have the advantage of being ahead of the game.
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