Apple Takes On Google Maps With WiFiSLAM Acquisition

  @redletterdave on March 25 2013 3:12 PM

Apple has confirmed the $20 million purchase of two-year-old Silicon Valley start-up WiFiSLAM, which will presumably help bolster Apple's location-based services, including its Maps, Find My Friends and Find My iPhone applications.

WiFiSLAM, which was co-founded by three Stanford graduates and a former Google engineer in 2011, allows users to detect and navigate locations with pinpoint accuracy with a host of applications that range from "step-by-step indoor navigation to product-level retail customer engagement to proximity-based social networking," according to the company's AngelList page.

Google Maps currently allows its users to navigate through certain indoor areas; as Apple develops its own year-old Maps application, the company will likely use WiFiSLAM's technology to allow users to similarly explore indoor buildings and spaces.

However, Apple could also use WiFiSLAM's indoor mapping technology for its applications like Find My Friends and Find My iPhone. For instance, if your iPhone is lost somewhere in your home or your school, WiFiSLAM-bolstered Apple Maps could show users exactly where the missing iPhone is located. Similarly, if a user is looking to meet a friend in a big building or library, Apple Maps could show the user's more specific location information to find their friend more effectively.

Even though Apple only "buys smaller technology companies from time to time," the company's Maps application introduced in iOS 6 was almost completely built from third-party companies. Apple Maps is essentially a Frankenstein monster of three separate companies acquired by Apple, including PlacebacePoly9 and C3 Technologies, which were purchased in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. But while combining the proprietary technologies from these companies has helped Apple deliver detailed 2D and 3D maps, there are still a large number of kinks to work out before it can reach Google Maps' esteemed status.

In its early going, Apple Maps lacked a great deal of information about roads, buildings, and directions. By focusing on the small details, Apple can build a more effective Maps application by helping users with more specific information about their environments, particularly indoors.

Before its acquisition by Apple, WiFiSLAM had raised money from investors including EarthLink and Boingo founder Sky Dayton and Google developer advocate Don Dodge, among others.

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