March 28, 2013

Apple acquires startup to improve its own indoor maps feature

Apple came under heavy fire last fall when the debut of its new map feature fell flat. Many customers complained that they were given inaccurate and incomplete information, and that the service directed them to locations that were far from their desired destination. While Apple found a way to tweak its Maps to better meet user expectations, it is looking in a slightly different direction for the future of mobile mapping – indoors.

The startup WiFiSlam was recently acquired by Apple. According to its website, WiFiSlam aims to improve indoor maps and other services by locating a user's position inside a building more accurately. Specifically, the company says it can pinpoint a mobile device's location to "2.5m accuracy using only ambient WiFi signals that are already present in buildings."

The Wall Street Journal reported that the acquisition was worth $20 million. Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, told the news source that Apple will buy technology companies from time to time and that it will not discuss the purpose or plans behind the transactions.

Why it is beneficial to look toward the future

Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology for the inaccuracy of its outdoor map features, and while mobile experts think that progress has been made, there is still a ways to go. Even so, the recent acquisition strategy could also help the company in the long-run.

"I do think they have improved," Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Skobbler, a mobile navigation service that competes with Apple Maps, told The New York Times. "I think they've put a lot of effort into it."

Thielking added that while certain aerial images – like the Statue of Liberty – have improved, he does not think that the acquisition of WiFiSlam will help Apple too much in its continuing effort to improve its outdoor maps. However, Apple understands that indoor maps are part of the future and that this technology acquisition is "about them taking the next step."