Here’s how Apple’s newly-patented system works. Devices with GPS sensors connect to access points. They then relay pertinent information (latitude, longitude, SSID, signal strength, other nearby SSIDS) back to Apple’s servers which tuck that data away for later use. When a device without a GPS connects later on, its location can be approximated using the info stored in the database.
This particular patent was filed mid-way through 2010. Interestingly enough, that was right around the same time Apple pushed out iOS 4 and started silently siphoning off location data from everyone with an iPhone or 3G iPad. Early in 2011, the situation blew up and Apple found themselves on the receiving end of several lawsuits including one in Korea and one here in the United States.
Apple offered up a fix in the Spring of 2011, though they’re still gathering location data by default — they’re being more selective about what data they phone home with now.
Will this patent give Apple an edge in the war for indoor location supremacy? No, but it’s one more nice addition to the cache following their purchase of WiFiSLAM in 2013. They’re likely loading up for another cold war with Google, who themselves have around 100 indoor location-related patents. Other big tech players — including Microsoft, Nokia, and Cisco — have their fair share of indoor location IP, too.
Things could get very ugly in the near future… unless, of course, these companies all take a much different approaches to indoor location patents than they have to things like mobile operating systems.