Apple Shells Out $20M – Keep an Eye on the Location-Based Services Market

by Britt Libby | 03/25/2013

Shelling out just under $20 million, Apple purchased startup WiFiSLAM earlier this month (reported by the Wallstreet Journal), adding the company’s indoor mobile location services to Apple’s broad library of technological proficiencies.  As the market for context-based services heats up, this move suggests Apple’s intent to play catch-up with its competitors in the market. 

  • On the hardware side, vendors such as Nokia, Samsung, Sony and CSR were founding members of the In-Location Alliance, which launched in August 2012 to “(pioneer) new business streams for indoor environments.”
  • In the OS market, Apple’s maps mishap demonstrated its weakness relative industry giant Google, which has pioneered advanced mapping and GPS-based directional software.  Google is also driving the market in indoor mapping of venues such as airports and shopping facilities.
  • On the software side, expect to see more acquisitions similar to this one, as startups continue to drive innovation in the space.  Vendors such as aisle411 – offering an indoor geo-fencing solution for retailers – will look increasingly attractive as the market heats up.

What’s on the horizon for Apple?

First, let’s take a look at what WiFiSLAM brings to the table:

  • Real-time pinpointing of device location, to 2.5m accuracy
  • Location-tracking based on buildings’ ambient Wi-Fi signals
  • Calculate consumer’s location in ~90 seconds

Integration of these location-based capabilities will drive a new wave of applications facilitating enhanced personal interaction and engagement.  Expect to see retail organizations leverage this technology with targeted advertisement, social networking and other types of consumer engagement. 

How much ground will Apple gain in the location-based services space?

Let’s be sure to level-set expectations. This is an important step for Apple and – more importantly – a key sign of what’s to come from Apple and from the location-based services market as a whole. And yet, in the end, the proof is in the pudding.  Apple has had its sights set on location-based technologies for a while now, with several other acquisitions in recent years.  Time is running out for Apple – and others – to bring a solid, stable location-based product to market.