Skyhook announced today that its location engine will power the location information for Priceline’s Hotel Negotiator Android app. In the grand scheme of things, the announcement is minor, but it illustrates the work Skyhook has done recently to get around an impasse with Google that limited the reach of Skyhook on mobile apps.
Skyhook, if you recall, sued Google last year alleging that Google pressured Motorola and other device manufacturers to drop Skyhook’s location engine in favor of Google’s technology. The case is moving through the courts, but it has disrupted Skyhook’s work to some degree. The Boston company has responded by going back to its roots and appealing directly to app makers to get them to try the location information, which uses a variety of technologies to better identify a user’s whereabouts.
Priceline is just the latest company to agree to pay for Skyhook’s technology instead of using Google’s free service. Others like Kayak, Shopsavvy, Gowalla, Flixter and more have also made the switch back to Skyhook. In some cases, they turned to Skyhook without prompting, while in other cases, Skyhook reached out to them to sell them on the benefits of its location technology. Skyhook CEO and founder Ted Morgan said the company has signed about 100 deals with app makers to work around the loss of internal Skyhook support on Motorola and other devices.
“This (the Priceline app integration) is a prime example of our Android strategy while we deal with the unpleasantness on the device side of things,” Morgan said. “We plan to get all the top location apps in the Android Marketplace to integrate Skyhook for better location to end run around the artificial barriers that Google has set up via the device certification process.”
Skyhook used to reach out directly to app makers, but it cut back on these efforts after it started winning deals with Android manufacturers, who embedded the technology on their devices. Morgan said Skyhook’s location engine is still more robust than Google’s, and its adoption by app makers show it’s popular even when it comes with a price tag. Typically, app makers pay a portion of their ad revenue to Skyhook. Priceline said it turned to Skyhook to improve its hotel-finding app which relies on very precise location data. I’ve reached out to Google and will update if I hear back.
Morgan said Skyhook is also looking to embed its technology in e-readers, digital cameras, portable gaming devices and music players. Skyhook’s new strategy is built out of necessity but shows that companies in a mobile ecosystem need to be proactive as they work with the platform makers. Apple also announced last year that it was turning to its own location technology though it continues to maintain the same business relationship with Skyhook, Morgan said.
The lesson is for companies to remain flexible and understand that platform makers can always wade into the fray and compete with existing players. Others may come across this lesson more as Android grows in its ambitions. Google is reportedly hiring dozens of software developers to create more applications for Android, which will inevitably mean more competition for existing app makers. As Skyhook is learning, it’s not enough to be good. You have to be aware of the shifting landscape and prepare to handle changes as they come.
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