What it is: Indoor mapping provides directions and location information inside large public buildings such as stadiums and museums.
The leader in mapping technology is Google. When most people want directions for driving, walking, or mass transit, they rely on Google Maps. When Google started improving Google Maps on Android but not on iOS, Google claimed they needed additional money from Apple to implement those improvements. So Apple went ahead and created Apple Maps instead.
Since Apple Maps started later than Google Maps, it’s still struggling to catch up in mass transit directions and even just accuracy. Initially Apple Maps contained all sorts of errors and missing information but has gradually improved to be decent. Still, Google Maps remains the mapping solution for everyone to beat.
That’s why Apple has long been looking for indoor mapping. The idea behind indoor mapping is to provide directions to different areas inside a large public area such as a shopping mall, museum, or stadium. Just as outdoor maps helps people find businesses to visit, indoor mapping can be even more crucial in helping people find a food vendor or a particular store. Indoor mapping has the major advantage of being closer to the user.
Instead of asking someone to drive several minutes to find a store, indoor mapping offers the idea of linking potential customers with stores and restaurants within minutes of their current location. So indoor mapping is not only a convenience like outdoor maps, but a potential source of revenue from advertising with companies looking for yet another way to attract nearby potential customers to make a slight detour in their direction.
Indoor mapping uses a variety of techniques to define the location of walls. The simplest idea is to track cell phone usage and determine that where cell phone users don’t go, there must be a wall in that location. Apple’s iBeacon technology uses Bluetooth technology to broadcast information, so placing iBeacon around a large building such as a stadium is another way to help an indoor map accurately depict its surroundings.
Apple has been pursuing indoor mapping for years, yet it’s still a relative unknown to most people. Yet wait for it to grow and one day people will accept indoor mapping as common technology the same way they accept mobile phones as common technology. Indoor mapping is already here, but still needs to gain wider acceptance and availability. Indoor mapping is just one more example of innovation that’s right before our eyes but tucked slightly out of sight from our everyday consciousness. Given a few more years, indoor mapping will become commonplace and most people won’t be able to pinpoint the exact time indoor mapping went from an obscure idea to a practical, everyday technology.
Yet that’s exactly how all forms of innovation work from fax machines and mobile phones to personal computers and electric cars. The technology has always been there with people working behind the scenes. Then suddenly it reaches a collective tipping point where everyone suddenly realizes its existence, even though it’s been around for years (or even decades).
Indoor mapping will be such a technology. Whether Apple can become the indoor mapping leader remains to be seen, but it’s an area that Apple and other companies are certainly going to compete over in the near future.