I read an interesting article last night (did anyone get the official time of death of TV) on why Indoor location technologies needed to move away from infrastructure (beacons, Wi-Fi, etc) and adopt a model based on handset based technologies and RF signals of opportunity, much like what happened with GPS, Skyhook Wireless and outdoor location. When I look at this from a start-up point of view I have to disagree.
Both, Apple and Google are expected to release handset based indoor location technologies this year that do exactly this, combining RF fingerprinting and sensor fusion. So the question is, where would the demand be for a third party solution? The example of Skyhook Wireless was interesting, as it is a tale of caution for any location start-up, as it never really recovered from Apple and Google doing their job for them.
Say I am wrong and Apple and Google do nothing, there is still an issue. RF fingerprinting was the first real handset based indoor location technology to emerge, but Apple killed it by blocking Wi-Fi APIs, and the start-ups either pivoted, or died. Until it opens this up to developers in some shape or form, it becomes very hard to create a solution based on RF that works on Android and iOS. Sensor fusion on its own won’t work due to drift, so you now need a third technology, and I actually think this is the best approach for cross platform support, using dedicated infrastructure like beacons and/or something like IndoorAtlas (who I think are in for a big year if they can prove their technology works at scale.) With crowd-sourced RF mapping emerging in 2016, RF will come back into favour but, whatever way you turn it, the power rests with Apple unless you have an alternative for iOS.
We have already seen IndoorAtlas win big in Asia with Baidu, SK Telecom and Yahoo Japan. SK Telecom is a particularly strong endorsement given its long term investment in multiple indoor location technologies. A number of players in the indoor location space have also mentioned that they are either trialling IndoorAtlas or planning to fully partner with them in 2016. The story goes that IndoorAtlas convinced Baidu by taking them to a Walmart to demonstrate how well it worked in real life. If it can do it at scale with a successful app in 2016, it really could become the third pillar of indoor location.
Its major advantage over infrastructure is its scalability. Over time, if IndoorAtlas can become commonplace in apps and on devices, supporting crowdsourced mapbuilding, it has huge potential to become a true alterntiave to Google and Apple. Suddenly, any retailer can partner with them and tap into their location data stream for their venues. Similarly, any company looking to create services around indoor mapped venues, will look to license from IndoorAtlas. This was the vision that many Wifi Fingerprinting vendors had 3 years ago.
When we consider other technologies, audio remains extremely underutilised but is ultimately an advertising technology so it doesn’t have the same capabilities. Next generation Wi-Fi and BLE beacons are available today but it will take time for these to penetrate. New technologies like LED/VLC, LTE-D and project tango are potential game changers but it is also too early for mass market adoption. Of course just like every other indoor technology, sensor fusion and magnetic field location are not perfect technologies. Start-ups should tick as many boxes as possible and support both, if their business model allows.