Apple devices to get location-based services

Navizon software
Navizon software
Yesterday Steve Jobs, in a post on the Apple blog announced it will open its mobile platform to third party developments through a Software Development Kit (SDK). “We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. […] we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers”, Jobs said. And to add:” The SDK will also allow developers to create applications for iPod touch”.

Wi-Fi positioning
Obviously this announcement does not bring GPS to these devices, but with a SDK there will be ways to connect an external GPS Bluetooth receiver, at least to the iPhone. But even more interesting, both devices feature Wi-Fi connectivity which can also be used for positioning. This is not precise enough for in-car navigation, but definitely good for a load of other applications –connected or unconnected - such as pedestrian navigation, digital tourism guide, mobile local search, buddy finder, location-based gaming and more.

Kevin Slavin, managing director at Area/Code, a location-based gaming company said: “Since there is no GPS and that developers cannot access the positioning technology used for 911 calls, Wi-Fi is probably a last desperate effort to provide location to the iPhone. Nevertheless, it might be a good one since there are several advantages in Wi-Fi positioning such as its fast time to first fix and its good quality indoors”.

There is a strong demand for location-based services on the iPhone: Mexens Technology, a New York City based company recently launched a hacked version of its Wi-Fi positioning software Navizon for the iPhone and already counted 120,000 downloads from its servers since its launch one month ago.

Cyril Houri, CEO at Mexens technology, said: “this SDK is a pretty good news because it will allow certain applications like ours to leave the “hacker world” and reach out to a much larger audience, the 80% of the user base that want only to use applications approved by Apple”. (read here our previous interview with Cyril Houri).

Jed Rice, vice president market development at Skyhook Wireless, another Wi-Fi positioning company said: “Anytime a device manufacturer opens its platform it does promote innovation. Furthermore it is also good to see a race between Nokia and Apple to attract developers to their platforms. However, we are glad Apple is not rushing this SDK because we see a lot of the current hacks to cause iPhone crashes. We think it is better to wait a bit more and have the right tools to develop bug-free consumer friendly applications.”

iPod touch
Soon or later the iPhone will get GPS: Apple will probably add it on future handsets because it will be pretty much a mandatory feature on all smartphones in 2008. But what is more interesting as a market development is to see the iPod touch getting Wi-Fi positioning capabilities. “Navizon is already running perfectly on the iPod touch as far as you have a Wi-Fi connection” said Cyril Houri. “We also have an unconnected version of Navizon that is so far only available to Windows Mobile smartphones, but it might be useful for the iPod touch”, he said. At Skyhook wireless this is the same: “we have a version of our technology for non-connected devices. You can store our 17 million US Wi-Fi access points database in less that 120MB”, said Jed Rice in a recent interview with GPS Business News (read here). Skyhook is already working with iRiver to bring Wi-Fi positioning to one of its Personal Media Player (PMP). But iRiver is not Apple. Therefore a SDK for the iPod Touch could drive the adoption of location-based services into PMPs faster than the market is expecting to.

Not only a platform, a market

Jobs recently announced it has sold over 1 million iPhones and Apple shipped 9.8 million iPods for the quarter ended June 30. Obviously not all iPod are Wi-Fi, but by February next year –thanks to the holiday season - LBS developers might probably have four to five million WiFi-enabled Apple devices to work for and a SDK to work with.

But Cyril Houri at Navizon is even more bullish, for him February is not the starting date of development, his company is launching tomorrow a SDK allowing third parties to develop applications for the iPhone using its Wi-Fi positioning engine. He adds, “Our business model is very simple, we have a onetime licensing fee: this is like GPS, you buy it once and it works for life.”

Thursday, October 18th 2007

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