Though it’s extremely early, the future of indoor mapping is coming into focus. A range of companies is working in this area, including Google, Microsoft, Nokia and others. Nokia even announced the formation of a pseudo trade group: the Indoor Location Alliance.
The first of startups to make a run at indoor mapping were consumer-facing mobile apps: Point Inside and Aisle411. However they generally have faced “so what?” consumer-adoption challenges. Consumers haven’t necessarily seen a reason to use them. Other competitors such as Wifarer and Meridian are enterprise facing. They license their technology and platforms to museums, retailers, airports and so on.
This B2B model is the one that will ultimately prevail, as enterprises and retailers seek to enhance their in-store or in-venue customer experiences with indoor directions, location-based notifications and offers.
What’s little known is that almost all of these indoor-location providers operate exclusively or almost exclusively on the Android platform or non-iOS devices. This is because, according to Meridian VP Jeff Hardison, Apple’s terms don’t permit third party developer apps to scan for WiFi locations, which is the primary way to locate someone indoors. GPS won’t work because you need a direct line of sight to the satellite.
Meridian has figured out a way to locate the user indoors that doesn’t rely on conventional WiFi hotspot scanning. Accordingly the company is making indoor location available to third party iOS app developers. This is totally new according to Hardison.
NavKit is intended for locations who not only want turn-by-turn directions for their apps, but also a content management system such as Meridian’s for making frequent changes to the mapping, routing and associated branding. NavKit relies on the regular Internet connectivity (cellular or wifi) of a smart phone to stay up to date and does not require any additional hardware installation.
The BluDotKit SDK provides enhanced capabilities to venues and simulates GPS indoors (i.e., moving dot as the user moves):
Meridian’s BluDotKit SDK now allows app developers to provide the glowing “blue dot” on the map experience in their mobile apps for venues. The company achieves indoor positioning across operating systems through a patent-pending approach to utilizing location information provided by a venue’s wifi hardware.
While other venues and businesses have been using Meridian’s technology, Macy’s is the first to integrate the SDK into its own app.
Obviously this has significant customer service implications; apps can help direct people to desired departments, merchandise and brands. And, as consumers move through the store, they can be shown deals or other information via notifications that are sensitive to where they are.
In addition to providing a better customer experience in stores — which is a part of an anti-showrooming strategy — in-venue mapping and notifications can boost sales. According to Meridian’s Hardison, Powell’s Books in Portland sees an average of 30 minutes of app usage or engagement within the store. The store has also seen a direct “five figure increase in monthly revenue” as a result of the app, says Hardison.
While indoor navigation and related services don’t make sense in every type of venue, I would anticipate that most major museums, hospitals, malls, airports and major retailers will eventually adopt indoor location and navigation. Meridian, which offers an app builder and content management system in addition to indoor positioning, charges a per-location licensing fee.
Meridian’s model is essentially a template for the future of the industry: B2B services and licensing fees, although I suppose would-be “disruptors” might try and do revenue sharing as a way to reduce up-front costs for merchants and venues. By the same token it’s very unlikely that ad-supported consumer facing indoor mapping providers, with the exception of Google, Microsoft and perhaps Nokia, are going to be able to make a go of it.
What do you think about indoor mapping? Do you see its utility or do you think it’s mostly a novelty?