Apple buys mobile mapping start-up

Apple has bought WifiSlam, an indoor mobile location service, as the Silicon Valley giant continues to compete with Google in mapping capabilities.

The deal closed recently for $20m, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, citing an unnamed source.

WifiSlam’s technology uses ambient wireless signals that are already present in buildings to pinpoint the location of smartphones, as opposed to the space-based satellite signals relied upon for larger-scale GPS mapping and navigation systems.

Such technology is used to provide step-by-step navigation in large indoor spaces, like airports and shopping malls, a service Google already offers in certain locations. It can also be used in commerce to deliver ads or deals to people’s smartphones when they are walking by a particular store, a development that PayPal is actively pursuing. Another application is social networking, sending notifications to people when their friends are close by.

Apple would not comment on its intended plans for WifiSlam’s technology, and said only that the company “buys smaller technology companies from time to time”.

WifiSlam was founded two years ago by a group of Stanford University graduates in computer science and a former Google intern.

The acquisition comes six months after Apple released a mapping application that was rife with errors. It came under fire from users for providing inaccurate names of locations and showing landmarks in the wrong places. The application was the first to replace Google Maps in Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, apologised for the product, and the company has since continued to compete with Google on mapping.