Apple's WiFiSlam acquisition won't beat Google Maps

The move to boost its indoor maps system could bring it on par with Google's maps, but what's more attractive are the potential business opportunities.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

With Apple's acquisition of an indoor-GPS company WiFiSlam, analysts note it will not have significant impact but merely place the U.S. consumer electronics giant's map system on par with Google Maps. However it could open up potential enterprise opportunities for retail and hospitality firms, though also raise potential privacy issues.


A spokesperson from the Cupertino-based company confirmed on Saturday it had acquired indoor-GPS company WiFiSlam, a Silicon Valley-based startup which develops ways for mobile apps to detect a phone user's location in a building using Wi-Fi signals.

This acquisition though, is not expected to have significant impact toward Apple as the Cupertino-based company is still struggling to recover from its "Maps fiasco", Loo Wee Teck, Euromonitor's global head of consumer electronics research, observed.

Ajay Singh, ICT Practice senior director at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific agreed, explaining Apple still had a lot of ground to cover against Google Maps, especially after dropping the search giant's maps from its system.

Apple's purchase of WiFiSlam merely enhances the company's offerings and bring its map system on par with Google's indoor Google Maps, Loo explained.

A large part of the battle is also determined by the smartphones on which the maps will be loaded and utilized, Loo added. Android-based smartphones' "unassailable" lead over iPhones will not change with Apple's acquisition of WiFiSlam, he added.

Enterprise opportunities with potential privacy issues

The acquisition also brings enterprise opportunities, especially for firms retail and hospitality sector, Ajay pointed out.

Since WiFiSlam tracks people within buildings, companies can come up with apps which enhance their services with the use of data analytics, he pointed out. A restaurant, for example, can develop an app for consumers to track how many tables are available, or how many tables are finishing their food, he noted.

Apple can then get a cut of the potential sales from retailers while ensuring stickiness to map usage, and making consumers feel "special" with personalized offerings and messages, Loo added.

That said, once Apple is able to track its users on maps and push products to them, this brings up the issue of privacy, Ajay remarked.

Loo noted privacy issues would depend on how Apple's implementation and flexibility to allow users to select and choose the level of detail in which Apple and its retail partners can harness and use their private data, Loo added.

Consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to had mixed reactions to the potential privacy implications.

Student Jasper Tan said he was looking forward to product promotions and suggestions if he was near a retail store. "It would be even better if they offered mobile coupons and loyalty points if I were near a retail location," he said.

Housewife Lee Suet Hua had a different take though, noting the possibility of retailers developing apps, though WiFiSlam could track her "feels like an invasion of privacy". "For that reason, I will probably not use any retail apps associated with Apple Maps and WiFiSLAM," she said

As companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook provide free services to users, with the hope of making profit from avenues such as data mining, consumers cannot expect free usage while demanding for full privacy, Loo noted.

"Users have to make their own judgment when using them, while companies have to thread a tightrope to ensure they do not enrage the users," Loo said, adding Instagram created an uproar by changing its Terms of Services in December 2012, and Apple should strive to avoid that.

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