Apple iPhone 5

Apple has acquired WifiSLAM, an indoor location and mapping specialist company.

Apple has bought the firm to bring indoor maps and location services to its iPhone and iPad. The acquisition has recently closed for $20 million according to The Wall Street Journal. See alsoiPhone 6 release date.

It is thought that Apple is hoping to catch up and rival Google after it ditched its Maps app in favour of its own, which had somewhat disastrous results.

Google allows Android users to access indoor maps for locations such as airports, shopping centres, train stations, museums and other venues. However, Google Maps for iPhone doesn't have this feature.

WifiSLAM is a couple of years old and has been developing a solution for smartphone users to pinpoint their own, and friends, locations up to an accuracy of 2.5m when indoors. The system uses Wi-Fi signals that are in use inside buildings.

"We are building the next generation of location-based mobile apps that, for the first time, engage with users at the scale that personal interaction actually takes place." says WifiSLAM. "Applications range from step-by-step indoor navigation, to product-level retail customer engagement, to proximity-based social networking."

Apple merely confirmed that it: "buys smaller technology companies from time to time".

Google currently offers more than 10,000 floor plans in 13 countries around the world so Apple has some catching up to do. Interestingly, one of WifiSLAM's co-founders is former Google software engineering intern Joseph Huang.

Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus, said a user's location data could be extremely valuable on a commercial basis. "There is a lot of money lurking in in-store merchandising," he says.

It's likely Apple will introduce the new feature with its next mobile operating system, iOS 7, or an update to iOS 6.

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