Acquisition Could Chart a New Course for Apple Maps
What can Apple do differently with mobile maps -- other than provide an app with accurate directions? Perhaps the company, still stinging from last year's failed Maps feature, can move the playing field inside large buildings, where people can still get lost without guidance. That may have been what prompted Apple to purchase a GPS startup that focuses on indoor location services.
Apple's purchase this week of GPS startup WiFiSLAM is the latest attempt by the company to put some distance between it and the 2012 debacle that was the launch of its own high quality maps feature.
The tech giant paid about US$20 million for WiFISLAM, according to published reports.
Apple has not made any public statement about how it plans to use WiFiSLAM, but the prospect of indoor GPS services could help the company expand its digital mapping features. The buy could allow Apple to help users find the shortest path to restrooms, sections of department stores or their airport gates in large, difficult-to-navigate buildings.
WiFiSLAM's appeal lies in its ability to accurately gauge the indoor location of users. It's difficult for many mobile GPS services to pinpoint a person's location inside a structure because the navigational signals aren't usually strong enough to read through thick walls or windows. WiFiSLAM says it answers that problem by picking up on wireless signals that are already in use in the building, making it a more efficient guide than other products on the market.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Back on Track With Maps
Apple's acquisition may help restore some faith in the company's mapping service.
Before the release of its most recent operating system refresh, Apple dumped Google as its maps provider and claimed it was coming up with its own ianswer to its established rival. Instead of overtaking Google Maps, however, Apple Maps was widely criticized for inaccurate directions and lack of public areas such as transportation stops or significant buildings.
Apple publicly apologized for the quality of the maps and even encouraged users to switch to other mapping services such as Google while the company improved its product.
Rather than simply develop a usable maps service, the company may try to outshine Google and similar competitors by using WiFiSlam's technology to offer indoor mapping features.
"Indoor maps are the next online mapping frontier," Emmanuel Stefanakis, assistant professor in geographic information systems and science at the University of New Brunswick, told MacNewsWorld. "People are using geolocation services increasingly on their mobile devices. Through them, they have a clear view of where they stand and what points of interest are located around them."
Apple isn't alone in developing indoor maps. Google says it already has maps that help mall shoppers, museum visitors and even Las Vegas casino patrons navigate through buildings.
"Google has been working on filling this gap quite a few years now. The release of new devices, such as the Google Glass, is also pushing this new trend," Stafanakis said. He was referring to a recent Google Glass YouTube video that shows a user combining indoor mapping and geolocation services with the device to find a book in a bookstore.
Any move that raises the bar in the digital mapping industry is a good thing for consumers, he pointed out.
"Apple is trying to catch up and gain the market," Stafanakis said. "We can anticipate that a huge new infrastructure of in-house online maps is going to appear the next few years with great potential for new business applications."
T-Mobile's iPhone Debut Gets the Media Talking
It took a while for T-Mobile to offer the iPhone to customers, but it finally made it official on Tuesday. In making the announcement, however, the last major carrier to provide Apple's device set the media buzzing with its unique proposition for consumers.
Unlike its wireless competitors, T-Mobile iPhone users won't be tied to a contract. Starting April 12, the carrier will offer the iPhone 5 for a US$100 upfront fee. Customers will then pay $20 per month for 24 months. If users want to change or leave services before those 24 months are up, they will have to pay the unpaid balance on the phone.
Similar plans will also be available for new Android and BlackBerry releases.
It's unclear yet how many new customers the carrier will draw with this new pricing structure. What is clear, though, is that simply adding the iPhone 5 to a lineup no longer is a sure sign of instant success for a carrier, said Jeff Kagan, tech analyst and consultant.
With recent iPhone sales expectation downgrades, and tough Android competition on the horizon, carriers are suddenly eager to rethink how best to get smartphones -- even the iPhone -- into the hands of customers; hence the T-Mobile approach.
"There is a segment of the marketplace which clearly prefers a no-contract environment. It's not like T-Mobile is inventing an entirely new space," Kagan told MacNewsWorld. "The new T-Mobile plan is somewhere in the middle, a hybrid plan. Will it be successful? We'll have to wait and see."