The indoor mobile location service war is only just heating up. Google had better step up its game because Apple has just acquired WiFiSLAM, a startup that helps in indoor GPS functionality using Wi-Fi.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Apple has bought over the Silicon Valley-based company for a figure somewhere around $20 million. A person familiar with the matter said that the deal was closed recently.

An Apple spokesperson said that the deal had indeed taken place. He said that the company “buys smaller technology companies from time to time” and does not generally discuss its plans.

Apple will go indoors

Apple will go indoors

WiFiSLAM’s software uses ambient Wi-Fi signals from routers present within a building to provide an accuracy of 2.5m, according to the company’s website. It not only lets you pinpoint the location of your smartphone but also the location of your friends.

“We are building the next generation of location-based mobile apps that, for the first time, engage with users at the scale that personal interaction actually takes place. Applications range from step-by-step indoor navigation, to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking,” reads the company’s overview page.

Interestingly, one of WiFiSLAM’s co-founders includes a former Google software engineering intern called Joseph Huang. The company currently has a handful of employees who will no doubt join Apple.

Acquiring WiFiSLAM is a smart move on Apple’s part. The company has come under fire ever since it made a weak attempt to launch native mapping services on iOS devices. Apple had replaced Google’s mapping solution in favour of its own Maps app on iOS 6 in September last year, but the app turned out to be quite buggy and showed erroneous data such as incorrect city names, warped streets and had a lot of missing information. This was especially true for places outside the U.S.

The resulting criticism was so vehement and widespread that CEO Tim Cook publicly issued an apology to Apple users following the software's launch. Apple is working to be independent of Google on all fronts, and abandoning Google Maps for its own solution was one of the major moves the company has made.

In December last year, Apple was also said to be in talks with Foursquare to integrate user data into Apple's map app. Apple’s Senior Vice President Eddy Cue was apparently meeting Foursquare representatives over a period of a few weeks to determine how the social network uses data to find locations and business listings. According to the Wall Street Journal, this was a sign of Apple's plans to integrate local services more tightly into the iPhone and iPad. The discussions with New York-based Foursquare came as Apple was talking to a number of other companies that collect local data to improve its new mapping product.

Google on the other hand started implementing indoors map in 2011 and has been going from strength to strength, with the service implementing nearly 10,000 floor plans in countries like the USA, Australia, Singapore and more. While apple will not be able to catch up with Google any time soon, this acquisition should be a cause of worry to not just Google, but all other companies attempting to take their maps indoors.

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