Companies Uniting to Expand Indoor Positioning Market…But Where Are Google and Apple?

September 11, 2012  - By
Kevin Dennehy

Headshot: Kevin Dennehy

Naysayers still exist when talking about the emerging indoor positioning market. They say that the market is still too nascent — and the technology is sub par and not there yet. However, there are just too many atmospherics, and big companies getting involved in indoor positioning development, to brush it off as another technology fad. The recent announcement that 22 companies are combining to come up with standards is a good example. Mainstream media articles touting the new market also are spearheading development and consumer interest. Still, how can you start an industry group and talk standards and markets without the two largest players?

In a move that indicates that there is a strong market, 22 companies recently partnered to create the In-Location Alliance. The new group, which includes Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics and Sony Mobile, aims to improve and expand indoor positioning and related services.

Google, which has been the dominant player in location markets, was noticeably absent. Google has partnered with large retail chains and has mapped many indoor malls, airports and other facilities to help drive the market with its Google Maps for Android 6.0.

Another company apparently not part of the alliance is Apple, which recently ended its location data partnership with Google. Apple is launching its iOS 6 operating system update, called Maps for iOS, which features 100 million business listings and Yelp recommendations.

In a prepared statement, the group said it welcomes the addition of any new member “who is ready to further investigate business opportunities in indoor location-based services and sees value and benefits in industry collaboration.”

The In-Location Alliance says it will go after both the consumer and enterprise location markets, even though both have technical and market limitations for indoor positioning. The group said services it will focus on include real-time navigation inside buildings, directions to personalized products and promotions inside retail stores and malls, asset and employee location, customer identification, and security solutions.

Because the technology is widely available on smartphones, the alliance will focus its products on enhanced Bluetooth 4.0 technology and Wi-Fi to develop mobile services as a starting point.

The allied companies say they will conduct pre-commerical pilot programs and business model verifications later this year in order to launch handset-based applications next year.

Other members of the In-Location Alliance include Broadcom, CSR, Dialog Semiconductor, Eptisa, Geomobile, Genasys, Indra, Insiteo, Nomadic Solutions, Nordic Semiconductor, Nordic Technology Group, NowOn, Primax Electronics, RapidBlue Solutions, Seolane Innovation, TamperSeal, Team Action Zone and Visioglobe.

Nokia also has been developing indoor positioning systems that use 3D models, rather than 2D floor plans. Broadcom released a chip that supports indoor positioning through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even NFC.

Mainstream publications such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today have written articles about indoor positioning as a potential burgeoning market. The articles say such big brands as Target, Walgreens and Home Depot are implementing indoor positioning and marketing strategies. Walgreens is partnering with Aisle411, which offers an application with 9,000 store maps.

Mapping Services Now on New Kindle Fire       

The next model of Kindle Fire, Amazon’s tablet, will have mapping services installed as part of a deal with Nokia. What is noticeable is that it does not have location technology from Google, which is strange as it is the Android mobile operating system that powers the Kindle Fire. Published sources say Amazon will announce the agreement this month.

As our sister publication Wireless Pulse reported, Competitor Barnes & Noble recently adopted OpenStreetMap, through Berlin-based Skobbler’s ForeverMap 2 app, to allow developers to create Nook applications with location functionality later this year, according to published sources.

While the Nook line of products are Wi-Fi enabled, they lack pure play GPS capability. Although Nook devices don’t have 3G or 4G access of smartphones, it is a step toward developing location capability.

A basic version is free on the Nook, and a premium version costs $4.99. The Nook units with the location capability include the Nook Color and Nook Tablets.

Both the Kindle and Nook have one common thread — their parent companies opted not to go with Google Maps. Is the location giant taking notice?

20 Years of Covering Location Technology

September 2012 marks my 20th year of writing about the business of location technology. In 1992, the big GPS companies (Trimble, Garmin, Ashtech, Sony, Magellan, Rockwell) were trying to develop consumer applications that were evolving from their military technology developed for the recently concluded Gulf War.

Most of the news back then was in the form of government contracts, and some survey agreements, or evolving policy about GPS. It turns out that the consumer side was being developed not by the GPS industry, but intelligent transportation industry providers through the digital mapping companies Etak (now TomTom) and Navigation Technologies (now Nokia).

While the terms “telematics” and location-based services were not being used in 1992, some companies saw the potential for big dollars incorporating positioning technology into mobile phones. I wrote an article in October 1992 headlined “Rockwell Says GPS in Cellular Phones Means Big Business.” I quoted a few industry consultants at that time who said that they had doubts that it would be a big market because of the cost and size of the GPS chipset, antenna issues, and consumer acceptance. The big deal about putting GPS into cell phones was to meet an FCC enhanced 911 requirement, but that happened a few years later.

Such companies as Motorola brought the name “telematics” to North America and attempted to jump-start the market here. At least one industry executive never liked the word telematics, saying it was a “Stalinist” word.

While companies have come and gone, and the technology has evolved to a point that commoditization is pervasive, the promise of location technology and markets will still be strong. Companies and individuals have made fortunes and lost them in the location industry, but one thing for sure — it has never been boring covering and writing about the business and people.

About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.