Apple patent ditches GPS for Wi-Fi to better determine location indoors


Apple has been granted a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday that will help its Maps app better track your location indoors.

The patent describes a technology that temporarily ditches the GPS sensor, and uses Wi-Fi access points, location databases, and other sensors to determine your location where the GPS sensor may not be as accurate, Apple Insider first reported.

The technology will determine “a location of a mobile device using a location database,” the patent filing states, suggesting Apple will find your location using one or more Wi-Fi points and build a more accurate location reading through a location database compiled on its servers.

The patent filing granted to Apple on Tuesday is similar to technologies created by WifiSLAM, a company which Apple purchased in March 2013 for about $20 million. WifiSLAM’s system uses Wi-Fi to “allow your smartphone to pinpoint its location (and the location of your friends) in real-time to 2.5m accuracy using only ambient Wi-Fi signals that are already present in buildings.”

This may be a much welcomed feature on Apple’s iPhone line-up, given GPS tracking can be spotty indoors.

Big changes to Maps are already in the pipeline, as Apple-focused publication 9to5mac reported in March that Apple plans a revamp for the Maps app within iOS 8 to display new points of interests and new labels to make places such as airports, parks, train stations, bus stops, highways, and freeways easier to find. Furthermore, Apple is said to be bettering its indoor mapping to rival what Google Maps and Nokia Here already provide, but it’s not clear if indoor mapping will be present on iOS 8 this fall.

In an ideal situation, Apple would still use GPS tracking outdoors, but would switch to public Wi-Fi sensors once you walked in-doors. Of course with all patent filings, it doesn’t mean that Apple will use the technology for sure in its products. However with competition and changes to its Maps app in the pipeline, it sounds likely.