There’s a race on to provide mobile users with the best indoor mapping. Outdoor mapping is no longer enough, and location services are increasingly using floor plans to guide users around malls or museums. Google has offered indoor mapping to Android users for coming on two years now; Apple bought WiSlam to boost its own efforts earlier this year; and now Nokia is partnering up with Qualcomm on indoor mapping too.
Most indoor location services rely heavily on Wi-Fi and cell-tower signals, as GPS doesn’t work very well in such circumstances. Last year Qualcomm introduced a new platform called IZat that hardwires indoor location-finding capabilities into the firm’s latest mobile chipsets, using not only Wi-Fi but also handset sensors such as the gyroscope, accelerometer and compass. But that positioning tech still needs data to work with, and that’s where Nokia’s increasingly important Here business comes in.
The Here team has been collecting floor plans and verifying their accuracy for a while now, and has been supplying this data to partners such as Microsoft’s Bing Maps for more than a year. Qualcomm’s Atheros division, which is responsible for IZat, is Here’s latest partner in this regard, and the companies say this will improve IZat’s accuracy in many cases.
According to Here location content chief Cliff Fox:
“Not only have we been the first to map some of the most recognized buildings in the world, but we also offer the world’s broadest coverage of indoor spaces with currently more than 9,000 venues consisting of 50,000 unique buildings mapped in 69 countries.”
Of course, Nokia’s Lumia phones all use Qualcomm chipsets, so I imagine the close partnership between Here and the IZat team will lead to better optimization of indoor location services in those devices. It will also help as Here becomes available on more platforms, as Nokia intends to be the case.
But accurate indoor positioning arguably doesn’t require specialized hardware – a lot can be done on the software front, too, using the sensors commonly built into mobile devices today. Earlier this year I reported on a funding round for an Austrian outfit called Indoo.rs that’s doing a lot in this space. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the French-U.S. firm Pole Star, which boasts accuracy to one meter.