Apple's secret new app maps venues using nothing but an iPhone

While many of Apple's releases are announced to the world with astounding fanfare, via TV ads, billboards and sold out press events, others make their way to the public without so much as a shred of confetti, or the digital equivalent, a Tweet. Such has been the case for the Cupertino company's newest first-party app, Indoor Survey, which lets business owners map out their venues using just their iPhones.

Released on the App Store on October 27, Indoor Survey sat undiscovered for several days before developer Steve Troughton-Smith found the app, which is only accessible via direct link and does not appear in search.

"By dropping 'points' on a map within the Survey app, you indicate your position within the venue as you walk through," reads the app's description on iTunes. "As you do so, the Indoor Survey app measures the radio frequency (RF) signal data and combines it with an iPhone's sensor data. The end result is indoor positioning without the need to install special hardware."

That last sentence, that Indoor Survey will allow small business owners to map their venues without purchasing dedicated hardware, is what sets Indoor Survey apart from Apple's previous mapping efforts, such as iBeacon. Released along with iOS 7 in 2013, iBeacons are small Bluetooth transmitters that retailers and venue owners can use to deliver location-specific notifications and alerts. For example, visitors to Apple retail stores who carry a Bluetooth-enabled iPhone could receive push notifications via iBeacon that contain information about Apple laptops when they walk near the Macbook display, or could get alerts on discounted tablet cases when checking out the iPads.

While its potential benefit is clear, one factor that has slowed the adoption of iBeacon technology is the cost and effort it takes for a company to purchase and install the specialty hardware in their stores. Indoor Survey could eliminate this roadblock.

Another possible use for the new app would be for small business owners to contribute to Apple's Maps Connect program. Launched last October, Apple Maps Connect invited business owners to submit their indoor mapping information to Maps. Initially, however, Apple stipulated that participating venues had to be accessible to the general public, offer Wi-Fi connectivity throughout and attract more than one million visitors annually. With Indoor Survey, Apple would be able to open this feature up to thousands more small businesses, giving its native navigation app some unique ammunition in its rivalry with Google Maps.

As Apple Insider reports, the Indoor Survey App uses a combination Wi-Fi and radio signals to track positions similar to technology developed by Silicon Valley startup WiFiSLAM, which Apple purchased for $20 million in 2013.

For now, Indoor Survey is available only to registered enterprise users, but with time it could become more widespread, helping businesses of all types drive interactivity with both employees and customers.

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