At the recent Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, Apple introduced its indoor location technology without a big splash.
Apple will use RF parametric data as well as motion sensors data from its M7 chipset to enable indoor location.
Mobile developers will use the existing corelocation API to enable indoor location. The only difference is that the API will offer a floor number in addition to the X,Y location data.
This indoor location technology was developed by WIFISLAM (read here), a company acquired by Apple in March 2013. It uses signal strength patterns of WiFi access points. These patterns can be crowdsourced by mobile devices and are augmented by data taken from compass and accelerometer.
The technology requires an initial fingerprinting of a building even if this fingerprinting can be done only by walking through the building with a Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone.
Indoor location only works When wi-Fi is on and the iphone is in use. In order to limit the power consumption there is no possibility of background location with indoor precision. However iBeacon could be used to trigger an alert at a special location.
During the 30 minutes presentation of the new technology at the conference, the Apple representative indeed emphasize the use of iBeacon in coordination with indoor location.
Venue owners who want to promote the use of their app should include iBeacons at the entrance of their venue to wake up the app. They could also include iBeacons at special places. For example an exhibition could include beacons in places were particular masterworks might need additional data available in the app. For this kind of purpose the range of the beacon alert triggering can be set to only a couple of meters/feet.
Precision and Maps
Nowhere during this presentation Apple gave indication about the precision of its indoor location technology. Developers will figure it out as they try the new API.
Furthermore, indoor location is interesting but it requires indoor maps to make sense.
For developers Apple has already enabled three locations with maps in and around San Francisco to test its API in a live environment: the California Academy of Sciences and the Westfield SF Center shopping mall downtown San Francisco as well as Mineta San Jose International Airport down in the Silicon Valley.