Apple is not new to this territory. It has been working with indoor maps for years, launching iBeacons, filing multiple patents and even spending $20 million on the 2013 acquisition of indoor mapping company, WiFiSLAM.
With iOS 9, (and likely with future plans in mind) Apple is ramping up it efforts. Developer Steve Troughton-Smith spotted Apple’s quiet October 27 introduction of Indoor Survey App, an indoor positioning app for use by business owners attempting to map out their venues.
It is already possible to use Core Location to take a Latitude/Longitude position and project it onto a flat floorplan.
"Enable indoor positioning within a venue using the Indoor Survey App," the app description explains. "By dropping 'points' on a map within the Survey App, you indicate your position within the venue as you walk through. As you do so, the Indoor Survey App measures the radio frequency (RF) signal data and combines it with an iPhone's sensor data."
Apple’s app uses both Wi-Fi and radio positions to track positions. However the app is intended for use by a much wider group of venue owners than its previous Apple Maps Connect offering.
Apple has previously been reported to use indoor mapping robots to create indoor maps of places like stores, offices and events venues. The company has also used its iBeacons technology to achieve this. The most useful manifestation of this so far in Maps being introduction of floor plans for large public transit stations, but that’s just a drop in the ocean of the potential of indoor mapping and location services.
So how might these technologies be applied?
It is easy to imagine indoor mapping support meaning your Apple Watch will one day be able to guide you to the right shelves in the supermarket or the correct platform in any station. You’ll also be directed to the right seat, table or treatment room and/or gain access to additional multimedia components when exploring galleries or museums.
That’s not to mention the potential for some bright spark to introduce location-based, preference-guided personalized advertising designed to make you feel like you live in the kind of truly dystopian fantasy you’d have to be a masochistic sociopath to dream of.
App developers will also be able to use these technologies. I can easily imagine apps that let you choose and book seats in restaurants, for example. Apple's Siri and Proactive will also be able to learn about your likes and dislikes using these tools.
Beyond consumer markets, these technologies should also enhance Apple’s enterprise bid. Such indoor mapping tech will help it offer its products to warehouse and distribution centers to help employees pick the right stock to pack; with implications for equipment location in hospitals or getting the nearest available medical practitioner to a patient needing help when in hospital.
In the near term, we’re likely to see the company deploy these solutions in ways that enable iOS users to find what they need, rather than using location-based awareness to recommend things to them. However this may change as it develops its solutions to provide convenience and privacy both at once.
It is interesting to think about Google, which has previously said its plan is “for any user… to be able to go into any public space and be able to find their way around.”
Apple has the same plan for Maps. And Apple Watch integration along with iOS 9's Proactive support means one day soon your smartwatch will know where you want to sit before you do, because it will have already figured out which seats you usually like, and will book them for you with your table.
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