While the furor over Apple’s Maps app seems to have calmed over the past few months, the company is still working on improvements to the much-criticized platform.
According to a new report in The Wall Street Journal, which quotes the ever-popular unnamed sources “familiar with the matter,” Apple has acquired indoor-GPS firm WiFiSLAM for $20 million. In theory, such a purchase will allow Apple to pursue its archrival Google in the growing arena of indoor mapping, where the latter already offers interior views of select airports and malls via Google Maps.
Although WiFiSLAM’s Website seems to have disappeared from the Web, the blog Apple Insider has reposted some of the company’s published claims, including its software’s apparent ability to isolate an individual’s indoor location within 90 seconds, based largely on an analysis of WiFi signals.
This isn’t the first time news has circulated of Apple’s attempts to bolster its mapping prowess through acquisitions. Back in January, Apple executives were reportedly considering whether to acquire Waze, a builder of mapping apps. Waze’s primary selling point was its active community of map editors; its creators argued that crowd-sourced map updating meant faster problem resolution. But crowdsourcing isn’t exactly Apple’s corporate style, and news of a potential deal quickly faded away.
Before the release of iOS 6 in September 2012, Apple relied on Google-generated data for its mapping app. With iOS 6, however, it chose to abandon that relationship in favor of homegrown data—something that quickly led to bad publicity, as those downloading iOS 6 began to complain about inaccurate directions and geographical weirdness.
The criticism grew to such a strident pitch, in fact, that Apple CEO Tim Cook had to post an apology on the company’s Website. “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers,” he wrote at the time. “With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”
In that apology letter, Cook even suggested that frustrated iOS users could rely on alternate maps apps. Apple’s subsequent damage control featured its executives talking to Foursquare Labs and other companies about the possibility of injecting more mapping data into iOS; as with all things Apple, however, the details of any agreements remained a tightly guarded secret.
That secrecy trend seems to be continuing with WiFiSLAM. But if Apple actually did make a deal for the company, it’s an indicator that the refurbishment of the iOS Maps app is still very much underway.