Next Technology – Indoor GPS/Location Services

From Core-apps CEO, Jay Tokosch

I recently had the privilege of speaking at IAEE’s Annual Conference in Orlando for two sessions. Both sessions focused on event technology. The first was hosted by Danica Tormohlen of TSE. I represented the mobile side of event technology in the discussion, and the talk spanned across many areas. My second session was with Colin Bunn of OnPeak; and in it we discussed mobile technology specifically.

In these sessions (and afterward), I was asked about incorporating indoor location services into mobile applications to help users maneuver around the show floor. This is a hot topic that keeps coming up as one of the most anticipated “Next Technology” areas for mobile apps. Imagine an app smart enough to show you where you are on the show’s floor; and the sponsorship opportunities that could be included to offer users a real interactive experience! We (at Core-apps) have done a great deal of investigation into this interactive mapping, and I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog that catches everyone up on where we are with this technology today.

When we first released our app in 2009 we offered location-based services – initially for Apple mobile products only. Later, in 2011 we added Android The technology used the existing WiFi at the venue but incurred no extra charges ( a Core-apps secret). On the expo floor map inside our app we showed a blue dot that covered about 40 feet of space showing the user where they were on the show floor. At the time, that was our WOW factor!!! Unfortunately, because the WiFi system was imprecise, we were never able to reduce the size of the “You Are Here” area, which, of course, covered multiple 10X10 booths!! In 2011, Apple decided to eliminate the use of the technology in their Operating System (5.0) as Google had announced future plans for indoor location-based services on Android (and Google Maps on Apple products). With Apple eliminating the use of the technology, our feature became obsolete; since only one phone platform could be offered. We investigated several new technologies –

Bluetooth – Great technology for many products. But, this technology has limited range (you know if you have a Bluetooth headset or use other Bluetooth products with your mobile device). You would need a Bluetooth hub about every 20 ft to capture the Bluetooth signal and map the user’s location. For a trade show floor, you would have to have many Bluetooth hubs in order to make this work – a management nightmare; and costly to set up.

Sound Waves – What an idea – measure sound waves through your phone to determine your location!! The limited range is about 40ft for producing sound waves using hubs/beacons. The phones would have to have the mics turned on to capture the sound wave that is emitted (which is outside the range of the human ear) and thereby determine your location. This technology is deployed today by Shopkick for Target in their mobile app. Beacons are set up in the Target stores, and when you run the app from within the store, it uses the sound waves to determine your location and offer you ads, etc.

This works fairly well for Target, as the stores are static: They don’t change a lot. The store’s layout stays constant once the technology is employed. While this has been used in a few small events that had a controlled environment, it has never been deployed with success in a trade show expo space. Trade show floors are dynamic all the way up to the expo; and sometimes even change during the expo. Sound waves also have multiple issues – from height of booths to density of material that blocks the sound waves. Also, exhibitors booths can have other technology that interferes with the signal and emits sound waves that cause inaccuracies; lessening the quality of the user experience. This is also a very costly technology to deploy due to the many hubs/beacons to meet the range requirements; and some booths, by necessity, would have to contain beacons to keep to the range requirements.

WiFi – This technology still provides the best range and cost-effectiveness, but sadly can only be deployed on one phone platform – Android This technology provides a very large range, allowing few hubs to cover a large space. And, if you use the existing venue WiFi, deployment time is minimal. Wifarer is a company that has successfully deployed this in malls and a sporting venue with Android They can determine a user’s location to within 3 ft!!! The feature offers pop up ads and a great range of stats and metrics on users’ locations – RFID-like stats, but with a smaller sampling!!! We (Core-apps) have embarked on an exclusive partnership with Wifarer, allowing us to offer this emerging technology in our apps.

So, what is the best technology for location-based services? At this time, there is no single answer. Bluetooth and sound waves have too small of a range, and will be too costly. Sound wave also has accuracy problems. WiFi can only be deployed on one phone platform; and that does not seem to be worth the cost. We hope that future talks with Apple will allow us to integrate Wifarer into iOS. Until then, we’ll keep our ear to the ground and look for new advancements.