GPS-enabled smartphones have made location the cornerstone of the mobile experience. Location powers popular smartphone apps such as Foursquare, shopkick, and Yelp; overall, navigation and mapping apps are the third-most-used category of smartphone apps, ranking higher than gaming, news, and shopping. Yet, as important as location is, its dependence on satellite-based positioning systems prevents it from playing a significant role indoors — where we spend up to 90% of our lives.

As I discuss in my new report, Next In Tech: Indoor Positioning, indoor positioning technologies are rapidly changing this situation by enabling users, venue owners, and app developers to determine a person's (or object's) position inside buildings. The impact of this change will be profound:

  • Make the physical world searchable down to the object level. By geotagging objects (through manual tagging or low cost tracking beacons), indoor positioning will make it possible to search for products and objects in the physical world as easily as we can on the Internet.
  • Provide a new platform for in-store shopper engagement and experiences. Indoor positioning will not only help shoppers with tasks such as locating products on shelves, calling for assistance, and accessing in-store services but will also enable retailers to engage shoppers in real time as they shop.
  • Digitize the call for help. Requesting help in venues will soon go digital, as indoor positioning will enable the help to come to you rather than you going to the help.
  • Make smart devices responsive to their environment. Location is quickly becoming an essential tool for organizing, discovering, and accessing information and services about our environment. Indoor position will amplify this trend by enabling devices to become alive with relevant services and capabilities when customers walk into a room, store, or venue.
  • Enable universal tracking and monitoring of people and physical assets. Think of this as Apple’s Find My Friends on steroids. Only now, you can see their exact location within venues or set up geofences to alert you to when they have arrived at your location or are waiting for you in a conference room.
  • Improve wayfinding to your actual destination. Directions to the airport used to stop at the parking garage, but indoor positioning will extend it to include wayfinding directions to your actual gate of departure. It'll also help you find your car in the parking garage on your way home.
The potential of indoor positioning is not lost on tech heavyweights Apple, Broadcom, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and Qualcomm, all of which are extending the capabilities of their platforms and products to enable indoor positioning. Google and Nokia are aggressively mapping venues and combined have nearly 40,000 indoor maps worldwide. Broadcom and Qualcomm are improving the indoor positioning capabilities of their chips and improving accuracy and availability of the technology at the same time. And Apple, which has yet to include indoor maps in its Maps app, is nevertheless employing indoor positioning technology in its Apple Store app to push Genius Bar customers a check-in notification as soon as they enter the retail store.
Further, major retailers such as Best Buy, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Target, and Walgreen, along with startups such as aisle411, Digby, Nearbuy Systems, Point Inside, Placecast, RedLaser (owned by eBay), and shopkick have deployed or are piloting apps that take advantage of indoor-positioning technologies to deliver personalized services, action-based rewards, augmented experiences, and targeted offers.
And the benefits to retailers and venue owners don't end there. By making it possible to track customers in the physical world as easily as we do on the Web, indoor positioning is poised to bring the power of web analytics into the physical world, giving us real-time insights into human behavior and habits on a massive scale. These insights will ultimately lead to a transformation in how companies plan, design, and manage their physical spaces and how we shop, live, and interact in them. 
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