The further I delve into the indoor location market the more complicated Google’s current indoor location offering looks.
Looking at the location technology side of the business, despite launching a number of indoor maps, Google has yet to offer a high-precision technology to developers or store owners. It has publicly discussed using an extension of its existing wide-area cellular and Wi-Fi technologies indoors, but as yet there is little or no information on accuracy levels, etc. Google has created an application for developers to create an RF map of their building to compliment a physical indoor map. This strongly suggests it is looking at a handset-based hybrid solution that utilizes Wi-Fi RF fingerprinting technologies, in combination with MEMS, Bluetooth, etc.
This would be the obvious route for Google, but it remains to be seen how robust this approach will be over the next 2 years. MEMS companies have indicated that consumer dead-reckoning is still 18 months away. RF fingerprinting is only as strong as the ever changing map on which it relies. Much like the outdoor world, companies will need to find a way to extensively map indoor environments, while also enabling dynamic updates. Crowd-sourcing is certainly an option here, but to do somay require it to open up the technology to developers, which Google has yet to do.Furthermore, unlike the outdoor world, buildings are private property and there may be some legal issues around user-generated content. Overall, there is a feeling in the industry that if you throw enough technologies at the indoor problem (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, MEMS, NFC, etc.), at least one will stick in most environments. IC vendors are still working on this and it will be 2013 at the earliest before we see some really interesting solutions.
One way to bring robust accuracy to the market today is through dedicated infrastructure. Google has recently announced a partnership with Boingo to offer ad-funded Wi-Fi in large urban areas, with 250 locations across the US. This will be used to promote Google Offers. It may be that this partnership also includes using the dedicated infrastructure to improve location accuracy.
On the mapping side, Google has taken a very unusual approach. It is providing a platform for buildings to have their indoor maps added to Google maps for free, yet it does not allow them to use the maps in any way, while retaining all rights. The result has been disillusionment from building owners that have worked with Google and an increasing reluctance from those who are considering it. One mapping company said that it has to work on the basis that Google will eventually open up APIs to indoor maps, making them freely available to developers, while another questioned if it can legally do so without recourse.
Google is slowly bringing a number of efforts together; namely Google+ Local, Business, Offers, Shopping/Price Listing Ads and mobile payments. It is creating a platform for local businesses to advertise products side by side. It would appear that indoor maps and location will play a part in these endeavors. What we can safely assume is that it is working on an indoor location technology, most likely a hybrid, handset-based appraoch. If it continues to restrict access to map rights and APIs, it may find it will alienate may of the larger retail brands, who are currently looking to bild their own mobile applications and indoor location technologies.