The Indoor War: Apple Buys Indoor GPS Company

WiFi-icon--AOne of the next great battlegrounds for mobile devices at retail will involve indoor mapping. Apple has joined the fray, apparently, by acquiring the company WiFiSlam, according to a report in the The Wall Street Journal.

WiFiSlam is a two-year-old startup that uses Wi-Fi signals in order to map locations that GPS satellites cannot reach. It is partnering with app developers to give them indoor mapping functionality. The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple paid approximately $20 million for the new company.

Indoor mapping is an area that Google has shown consistent interest in developing. And a series of other startups have emerged in recent years that also promise to partner with retailers and developers to provide precise location and marketing services within an enclosed physical space. The promise here is considerable. If a marketer or retailer can locate users from aisle to aisle within the store, it can synchronize special offers and direct users to a variety of items. At the very least, indoor mapping can be used to help retailers better understand traffic flows, which can be essential to shelf and end-cap positioning.

After the famous debacle over its own mobile mapping that was included in iOS 6 last fall, Apple certainly needs some sort of edge in competing against Google maps. And if Apple is going to make a serious play for the mobile payment space with the future implementation of the Passbook app and perhaps an NFC-capable iPhone, then a indoor mapping can be yet another way that the mobile phone maker can partner with retailers and offer specific services.

WiFiSlam was founded by two Google veterans. The company's technology uses the relative Wi-Fi signal strength to locate someone within a physical space and give each device a specific fingerprint as it moves through a retailer mall location.

"Wifi Icon photo from Shutterstock"

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