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When Aesop downloaded an app and tried to navigate indoors…

Indoor Navigation definitions

“2010 will be the year of LBS”. Well it’s about the end of November and we can start changing the song to “2011 will be the year of LBS”. And as if Location wasn’t enough we added Indoor LBS to the mix. Everybody speaks about Indoor Navigation, and most of them refer to a completely different concept

The business opportunities

Most of the Interactive Maps apps are primarily themed for Malls.

From the marketing perspective and looking at the “mall potential users” we see that only 17% of the population has a smartphone, and close to 31% of mobile internet services users are female. That means only 5.27% of the population are females using mobile internet services. From the total of female smartphone users only around 21.5% use some kind of location services. That leaves us with target market of 1.1% of the mobile phone owners. Mall demographics show that females outnumber males 2:1, and in most cases they shop in places that are familiar to them. That means that about 1 out of 100 customers entering a mall is a POTENTIAL user, and if you consider that these apps are only available for certain phones, the target market is even smaller. Can you imagine a customer that visits the same mall every week, turns on the wi-fi to navigate to a store he/she knows?

From a mall application I would expect more. I would like to be able to enter a specific product, and have the app connected to the stores’ actual inventories. Look for prices, show me the places where I can have it now, and even offer alternatives. It’s not about finding a store; it is about helping the users to find their way to the products they want.

At this point of time, Indoor Navigation shouldn’t be the focus. Positioning interactive maps as such is a much better strategy, as the users receive what they have been told, and a small commercial ecosystem can be built around that concept.

Interactive maps can better serve other indoor venues. A clear example is trade shows, where there is a larger concentration of Smartphone users, there is a need to locate places in a venue that is totally unfamiliar, and the opportunities for advertising are larger.

The Boy Who Cried “Navigation”

I was recently putting in order my library and I found a very old book with Aesop fables. It was one of my favorites as a kid. Here is an adapted version of one of them:

“…There once was a developer boy who sat on his Mac, sipping a latte and watching the village customers pass by. To grab their attention he took a great breath and sang out, “Indoor Navigation! Indoor Navigation! We have Indoor Navigation!” The villagers came running and installed the app. But when they arrived to the mall, they found there were interactive maps only. Later, other developer girl sang out again, “Indoor Navigation! Indoor Navigation! We have Indoor Navigation!” To her delight, she watched the villagers installing the app again. When the villagers, familiarized with their TomToms and Garmins, saw they have turn by turn directions but not the same customer experience sternly said, “Save your happy song for when there is really navigation, like in our cars!” Later, a third one released an app that worked exactly like the GPS in our cars. Excited, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, “Indoor Navigation! Indoor Navigation! We have Indoor Navigation!” But the villagers thought they will not receive what they expect, and so they didn’t install the app at all. The End.”

Let me be clear at this point. I have seen amazing apps coming to the market during the last year, with huge investment, lot of work behind, and some of them with a real value proposition. My point is that we need to create a common language that will allows us approach the market without confusing the users and the customers, and in a way “killing the golden goose” (as Aesop would say)

Can we agree on the definitions?

What do I expect to receive from a basic Indoor Navigation app? 1) An app that automatically identifies where I am and shows me an updated layout 2) After determining my destination the device will find the best route 3) While moving towards my destination the map will show my movements without my intervention 4) If I take the wrong route, the device will notify me and create a new path 5) The device will notify me when I arrived to destination.

If your car GPS device would require from you to input where are you, move the map manually, figure out if you are in the right path, guess if you arrive to destination, etc. we would agree that by today’s standards, we will not call that navigation. So why call that user experience “navigation” indoors?

The best way to describe what we have today is “Interactive Maps”. Interactive maps include all the features you can find in apps today. Search and discover, turn by turn directions, locate products and services, identify facilities, ATMs, and other POIs. Look for an exhibitor in a trade show. Find your gate in the airport, and the eateries in your way there. Trigger promotions to consumers when they enter the vicinity of a store, and many more. In a stretch you can call it “Indoor Location Services”, just don’t call it “Navigation”.

Crossing the chasm to real indoor navigation

Are we ready today to provide indoor navigation? Technically maybe. Practically?… I doubt it. For real indoor navigation, as defined above, you must have certain hardware infrastructure. In order to approach a mass market, there will be a need to create a hardware infrastructure for each site, which will most probably be based on Bluetooth.
You need to identify the right venues, analyze if users will have a compelling reason and benefit from the use of indoor navigation, and create a business model that will maximize the profits.
The third component is accuracy. If I’m looking for an exhibitor in a tradeshow, I need at least 10 foot accuracy.
The most viable way to make this happen is having companies like Google, Motorola, Cisco, Nokia, etc. take the lead on developing and providing the required infrastructure. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, etc. may take the installation and maintenance of the infrastructure. There resides the real market opportunity. When this happens, the interactive map applications will get an additional layer of relevancy. Most probably at that point of time the companies that develop, install, and maintain that infrastructure will claim the larger share of the benefits

Last Aesop reference

If Location Based Marketing is in its infancy, Indoor Navigation is in the gestation stage. We don’t know what it will look like, or who the leading players will be. We know not what the standards will be or who will determine them. What I know is that today we have high-quality interactive maps and we can enjoy them in many places. Those apps, while presented and sold correctly, can provide a very good income stream.
At the end of the day, to make Indoor Navigation possible and profitable, we need to create an environment with a compelling reason for users to adopt this technology i.e. users that receive a real benefit; it should 1. Be targeted to a mass market; 2. Provide a product that is comparable to our standards for outdoor navigation, and without a doubt 3. Be based on some kind of external infrastructure. Those that claim you don’t need any of these may fall in the category of “sour grapes” (and that was my last Aesop reference).

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About Claudio Schapsis

Claudio Schapsis is a market driven technology evangelist integrating cutting-edge technologies into marketing strategies, particularly in areas of digital/mobile marketing, Location Based Marketing, and Location Based Services (LBS). For his pioneering approach to the mobile marketing practice and the integration of new technologies Schapsis has been invited to speak in more than 20 professional conferences and universities such as Columbia University, Pace University, Fordham University, Howe School of Technology Management, and others. Follow Claudio Schapsis on Twitter: @schapsis

8 Responses to "When Aesop downloaded an app and tried to navigate indoors…"

  • Gary Gale
    November 24, 2010 - 9:43 am Reply

    True, you can’t call today’s consumer indoor navigation solutions “navigation” in the same sense that we understand that for GPS and A-GPS powered “satnav” systems. Maybe we should call “satnav” style navugation “GPS voice assisted turn by turn navigation” to be strictly correct. With the current technology it’s not a fair comparison. GPS took a good while to become ubiquitous and indoor sensors are nowhere near this state with the need for infrastructure investment and with no common standard for sensor and consumer device interoperability (as you note).

    I’ve got to disagree with the statement “The most viable way to make this happen is having companies like Google, Motorola, Cisco, Nokia, etc. take the lead on developing and providing the required infrastructure. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, etc. may take the installation and maintenance of the infrastructure” … agreed, companies that target the consumer need to provide the capabilities within their devices to take advantage of whatever sensors are in place for indoor navigation but there’s currently no stimulus for infrastructure companies to place sensor equipment indoors at the moment as the monetization opportunities exist on the consumer end and the benefits of that will pass to the consumer apps, not to the infrastructure providers. As an interesting comparison, there’s still no cellular coverage on the London Underground, despite TfL (London’s transport body) best efforts.

    Granted, today’s (predominantly mall biased) indoor navigation systems are in their infancy and are primitive compared to their GPS based cousins, but as I wrote about recently (http://www.vicchi.org/2010/11/23/a-first-step-towards-indoor-navigation-literally/) sometimes the simple solutions are the best way forward until the industry finally agrees on how best to serve the needs of the indoor navigation consumer.

  • Frank Schuil
    November 29, 2010 - 11:29 am Reply

    Hi Claudio,

    Good article, agree to most of it. One point that I’d like to stretch is that the current companies have tried to apply triiangulation to the existing infrastructure which indeed doesn’t get you any further and makes your statement about the need for new hardware correct. However, by using signal strength fingerprinting it’s a different ballgame with different (promising) results.

    Disclaimer: we do this :o)

    Cheers, Frank

  • Josh Marti
    November 30, 2010 - 1:52 pm Reply

    Hi Claudio,

    Disclaimer (I’m the CEO of Point Inside)

    Excellent corrections made in the article around definitions. I’m not sure I agree on the approach to defining the TAM, but am relying on the trends we see verses any hard numbers.

    From our perspective, the ecosystem should break out something like this:

    Indoor Absolute Positioning
    Indoor Inertial Relative Positioning
    Indoor Mapping
    Indoor Routing

    From those systems, Indoor Navigation is achievable. Thanks for uncovering the issue and for starting to correct people. There are analogous ecosystem players in the LBS marketing space, but that’s a discussion for another day (again, a market that suffers from ambiguous definitions).

    We’re guilty as charged as claiming Indoor Navigation status. Although we can do it in select environments, it’s far from ubiquitous or something we’ launch this year. “2011 will be the year of indoor navigation”. ;-) Thanks Claudio. Josh

  • tristian lacroix
    November 30, 2010 - 10:10 pm Reply

    It’s true that there are multiple of indoor Nav apps (see http://www.indoorlbs.com for a comparison) many of which are also producing their own indoor maps ..resulting in fragmentation that will only slow down the potential explosion of indoor LBS apps. For mass adoption , “the” indoor map for all malls, airports, etc will be essential ..or an “indoor LBS” server that will read many indoor map formats..or an “indoorML” interoperability standard to act as the unifying exchange protocol for the currently messy and divided indoor map world.

  • David Kyle
    December 1, 2010 - 9:44 am Reply

    I agree with the comment made by Frank with respect to Finger Printing. There are currently technologies avaialble, and device manufacturers are looking at these, that provide a good accurate location fix for both Indoor and deep urban canyons.

    In these situations, technologies already in consumer devices are being utilised to bridge the gap left open by GNSS or A-GNSS technologies, in particular Wi-Fi. Wi-FI positioning is based around the pattern of observations associated with multiple Wi-Fi ‘hotspots’ and include ‘fingerprinting’ where observations are compared to previously mapped locations, and “trilateration”, where received power is used as an indication of distance from the transmitter and then finally a geometric calculation against known transmitter locations is used to locate the device.

    BTW: We provide equipment that enable manufacturers to simulate Wi-Fi environments and enables them to also test devices in various hybid scenarios.

  • Prabuddha Ghosh
    December 2, 2010 - 8:57 am Reply

    I think we are missing the point. Lets look at Navigation. For navigation we need 2 things. Good data and good location. Now data will become more available as Indoor LBS takes off but the really interesting question for me is location. Now before there was this new fanglled thingmajig called GPS , in the good old days there was something used for location determination called INS or Inertial Navigation Systems. (In fact airplanes still use them as GPS altitude is pretty flaky) . The problem was INS needed Accelerometers, Compasses and Gyroscopes and these were all expensive. But guess what in the last few years all of these have become available as MEMS and are embedded into phones.. In fact today the cost of these sensors is less tha 1 dollar per axis of location (3 for accelerometers, 3 for compasses/magnetometers and 3 for Gyroscopes) Now good sensor fusion algorithms are coming through and we have apis like the Iphone 4 which actually combine these together and give us good device motion. Companies like Invensys have even announced chips with all three sensors as well as Dead Reckoning algorithm embedded in the chip itself. So what this means is by next year 4th QUarter I expect to see an iPhone 5 which gives accuracy as good as or better than GPS indoors. So the entire issue of infrastructure for indoor LBS is moot. We shall all be carrying our own indoor INS embedded in our phone. So the focus of LBS needs to be on getting better data and on applications. Focussing on the infrastructure is a dead end. But then again thats just me ( I dont even use my iphone for voice calls. I use skype on the phone as I have an unlimited 3g data plan. I have been saying the telco model is dead for years so definitely another model based on legacy infrastructure is definitely dead in my opinion)

  • Dennis Hollenberg
    December 2, 2010 - 4:01 pm Reply

    Good, perceptive comments, Prabuddha Ghosh! Eons ago I remember our three submarine gyroscope INS units each being as big as a washing machine; MEMS versions are little more than a grain of salt. Their adoption into mobile devices will only increase, likely more than double with the 2011 crop. Are you currently working on apps?

  • Prabuddha Ghosh
    December 9, 2010 - 7:03 am Reply

    Well yes we are working on adding Dead Reckoning to a sports application for iphone/Android . I cant reveal the name but its one of the major shoe companies :) With Dead Reckoning added we plan to add more things like e.g. Telling a runner about the buildings he is running by. I personally when running through historical downtowns have often wondered about the intricate architecture of many town houses and would love to hear what type of architecture it is and so on. ITs kind of AR but audio only.

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