Apple pays $20M for indoor-location firm WifiSLAM

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) forked over a reported $20 million to acquire WifiSLAM, a two-year-old startup whose mobile apps use Wi-Fi signals to locate smartphones inside of buildings.

The acquisition was first reported by The Wall Street Journal's Digits blog, which said the $20 million price tag was provided by "a person familiar with the matter who said the deal closed recently."

WifiSLAM's entry on investor site AngelList says the company's technology allows a smartphone to pinpoint its own location or the location of friends in real-time to 2.5 meters accuracy "using ambient Wi-Fi signals that are already present in buildings." WifiSLAM has been marketing its technology to application developers and potential applications cited by the company include "step-by-step indoor navigation, to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking."

Early investors in Palo Alto, Calif.-based WifiSLAM, include Don Dodge, developer advocate at Google  (NASDAQ:GOOG); Earthlink and Boingo Wireless founder Sky Dayton; and Kevin Talbot of Relay Ventures.

Apple was dodgy when asked about the WifiSLAM acquisition. "Apple acquires smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, told Bloomberg.

However, Apple has been racing to improve its mapping capabilities as it battles Google and Google's Android OS in the marketplace. Google already offers indoor mapping for locations such as airports, shopping malls, casinos, sports venues and even museums through its crowdsourced Indoor Maps project.

The companies have been butting heads in the navigation and mapping arenas for months. After Apple dumped preloaded Google Maps access on iOS devices in favor of its much-maligned Apple Maps platform, Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to issue a public apology for all of the inaccuracies in the maps provided by Apple's platform and vowed dramatic improvements. Google, meanwhile, introduced a native Google Maps app for iPhone late last year. More than 10 million iOS device owners downloaded the app within its first two days of App Store availability.

Google Maps also is a core feature across the Android mobile operating system, which now powers more than 750 million devices worldwide. Google Maps is the second most popular mobile application among U.S. consumers, trailing only Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), according to a recent comScore Mobile Metrix report.

Apple and Google are not the only companies trying to make plays in the indoor location business. The worldwide market for indoor positioning has been slowly percolating for some five years but appears to be coming to a more rapid boil thanks in part to the growing ubiquity of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other wireless technologies than can be used to track devices indoors.

For example, at last month's Mobile World Congress UK-based CSR showed its Location Services Platform, which useds its SiRFstarV architecture, an approach that integrates GPS with real-time information gathered from Galileo, GLONASS and Compass (BeiDou-2) satellites; multiple radio systems, such as Wi-Fi and cellular; and multiple MEMS sensors, including accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses.

CSR is also one of 22 companies that last summer launched the In-Location Alliance, focused on solutions "offering high accuracy, low power consumption, mobility, implementability and usability." The alliance noted indoor positioning could provide shoppers with directions to products and personalized product promotions in nearby shops, real-time navigation inside a building and increasing security in emergency situations. The value of indoor location technologies to facility owners includes increased local customer identification and enhanced product placement, said the alliance.

Other founding members of the alliance include Broadcom, Dialog Semiconductor, Eptisa, Geomobile, Genasys, Indra, Insiteo, Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Nomadic Solutions, Nordic Semiconductor, Nordic Technology Group, NowOn, Primax Electronics, Qualcomm NASDAQ:QCOM) , RapidBlue Solutions, Samsung, Seolane Innovation, Sony, TamperSeal AB, Team Action Zone and Visioglobe. The group's website shows that it now has more than 50 members.

Companies conspicuous by their absence from the In-Location Alliance roster include Apple and Google.

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article
- see this Electronista article
- see this AngelList webpage

Related articles:
Google Maps for iOS eclipses 10 million downloads in first two days
Chitika: Google Maps app launch has little impact on iOS 6 adoption
Google Maps returns to Apple's iPhone, adds turn-by-turn navigation
Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung spearhead indoor navigation alliance
Nokia adds location-based Groupon deals to Lumia smartphones
Google Maps for Android adds museum guide features
Apple's new iOS 6 adds deep Facebook integration, dumps Google Map
Verizon Wireless gets Loopt