David vs Goliath: Wifarer’s bold quest to out-map Google indoors

Wifarer app for Android

Everyday we hear about some new mobile startup, but few of them accomplish anything grand. Rather than win users with a quirky little endeavor, Wifarer has decided to take on a behemoth: Google and its big plan to map out the interiors of airports, museums, universities, shopping malls, casinos, resorts, supermarkets, convention centers, and every other indoor place that’s big enough to warrant a map. Google has a head start too. As Wifarer ramps up its first venues, Google has already mapped more than 10,000 stores, casinos, and resorts around the world. But as small as it is, Wifarer’s vision is bigger: Google wants to map the indoors — Wifarer wants to help you understand it.

Google’s first indoor maps have been sparse, at best, and mostly point out a few businesses inside major venues, but Wifarer thinks it can do a lot better. It aims to turn indoor mapping into an experience all its own. To do this, it has done three amazing things: It concocted a way to find locations indoors without the aid of GPS; it creates drawing maps so detailed that they can guide you to anywhere you want to go, from the nearest bathroom to the fourth floor escalator emergency exit; and its platform is so robust that it places can be stocked with a ton of proximity-based content. (If you walk past a Woolly Mammoth exhibit in a museum, Wifarer’s app will tell you all about it.)

It’s called ‘Indoor Positioning’

When I spoke with Wifarer’s CEO and co-founder Philip Stanger, he was quick to let me know that Wifarer is not just about indoor ‘mapping.’ It’s about much more.

“It’s indoor positioning — slight difference,” said Stanger. “Maps is a part of it, but what we’re mainly interested in is not so much the idea of indoor navigation or wayfinding — which is, of course, very important and something that you definitely do — but the idea of triggering location events based upon where you are is [what we’re most excited about].”

Here’s the idea: Wifarer is an app that Android and iPhone owners can download and open when they enter a supported location, like an airport, museum, or department store. Once opened, it changes its design and layout to match the needs of whatever location you’re at. If you’re at a store, it will show the sections of the store and help you find what items you’d like to buy and can even show coupons; if you’re in an airport, it can help guide you to your airline, gate, or the bathrooms. Every location or business gets its own customized maps and services. In essence, it molds itself to the needs of the location you are in.

Here’s how it works: Indoor maps are desperately needed in some venues, but they aren’t easy to accomplish, which is why even Google, with all its mapping might, has struggled to map the indoor spaces of the world. To breathe life into this broken dream, Wifarer is using a new approach. Instead of trying to use GPS to navigate indoors — which is notoriously unreliable due to its need to connect to a satellite — Wifarer is using indoor Wi-Fi access points. By pinging a number of access points inside of a venue (which are calibrated to allow this) and calculating how ‘loud’ each of their signals are when they come back, the Wifarer app can calculate your position within a few feet, Stanger told me. If you’re near a “point of interest” for a venue, the app can trigger a popup or notification to let you know more about where you are. 

Wifarer content management system

(Sidenote for geeks: Stanger was quick to tell me that it doesn’t ‘triangulate’ your position. Instead, it’s more like pattern recognition. When a venue signs up to be a part of Wifarer, a team comes out to get a lay of the land, so to speak, and map out where access points are and such. By comparing your signal strength to the info on file, the Wifarer app can determine your actual location within about four and a half feet.)

The latest venue: Royal BC Museum

Wifarer Royal BC Museum Woolly MammothDays ago, Wifarer officially launched in one of its first large-scale venues: the Royal British Columbia Museum of natural and human history in Victoria, Canada. Now, everyone who enters the museum can easily download the free Wifarer app and have a full guide to the museum right on their smartphone (Android and iPhone). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the trip from NYC to Victoria to give the system a whirl, but even though we aren’t in the museum, we can actually still use the Wifarer app to check out what the museum has to offer.

On Android, the user interface is fully functional, but could look a lot nicer. It needs some work and an update to the new styles of Android 4.0. Still, the maps are so nicely drawn that you can tell the men’s bathrooms from the women’s and look through all five floors of the museum. Every exhibit in the museum is labeled. The dinosaur area on the second floor is so detailed that you can actually tell which major dinosaur skeletons are on display. The third floor is split into sections of human history with sections about farming, sailing the ancient seas, and such. As you walk around the museum and enter new areas, information pages pop up to let you know info about entire halls or specific exhibits, like the Microraptor, which is a species of dinosaur that had wings and climbed trees, but couldn’t actually fly. Videos pop up and can be streamed in particular areas as well, providing things like a scientist showing how our ancestors discovered how to make knives with disposable blades. Pretty cool.

Wifarer video BC Museum

If I was in the museum, I could also select a section, like dinosaurs (I like dinosaurs), and the app will guide me to that location in the museum, much like an outdoor map. Finally, a news feed can be plugged in, giving visitors up to date news on the happenings of the museum.

(Next Page: The possibilities and challenges ahead)

Mobile

You can now message businesses straight through Google Maps

Google has been updating Maps with a ton of new features over the past few months, and now it's back with another one -- the ability for users to message businesses directly through the Maps app.
Gaming

Find a fish and get your boogie on with Fortnite's week 8 challenge

The Fortnite season 6 week 8 challenges have arrived as we near the end of this spooky season. The big free challenge this week is the Fortnite fish trophy challenge where you need to dance with different fishes. Here are all of the…
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.
Mobile

These 100 best iPhone apps will turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

The iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the world, and we want to bring out the best in yours. Behold our comprehensive list of the best iPhone apps, from time-saving productivity tools to fun apps you won’t be able to put down.
Cars

Uber rolls out rewards program that lets its most loyal riders lock in prices

Uber launched a new loyalty program today called Uber Rewards. It offers frequent riders credits to Uber Eats, car upgrades, and the ability to lock in prices on their most traveled routes.
Gaming

15 tips for keeping your vault-dwellers alive in ‘Fallout Shelter’

The wasteland can be an unfriendly place, if you don't know what you're doing. Here are 15 tips that will help your vault thrive in Fallout Shelter, including information on questing.
Mobile

Motorola Moto G7: Here’s everything we know

The Moto G6 range is still relatively new to the market, but rumors have already started about the Moto G7, which is expected some time in 2019. Apparently, a G7 Power version will be joining the G7, G7 Play, and G7 Plus.
Mobile

T-Mobile's new Revvl 2, Revvl 2 Plus are now available for purchase

Last year, T-Mobile launched its own line of branded smartphones. As a follow-up to their predecessors, the carrier has unveiled the Revvl 2 and Revvl 2 Plus -- complete with a sleeker design. Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

How to take great photos with the Pixel 3, the best camera phone around

You’ve scored yourself a new Google Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, and you want to take advantage of that incredible camera. We’ve got everything you need to know right here about how to snap the best photos with your Pixel 3.
Wearables

Google's Wear OS update 'H' promises battery life improvements

Google has rebranded its Android Wear operating system to Wear OS. Removing the Android name may help people better understand Google-powered smartwatches, which also play nice with iOS devices. 
Smart Home

Huawei could soon take on Google and Amazon with a new digital assistant

According to a report from CNBC, Huawei is working on a new digital assistant that could try to take on the likes of Google and Amazon's Alexa. Huawei already has a digital assistant in China, but the new one will be aimed at markets…
Mobile

Leak shows a third, budget Google Pixel 3 with a Snapdragon 670, headphone jack

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a third. A budget Pixel 3 device that boasts some of the best features of the other two has been leaked.
Mobile

Use multiple phone numbers on one device with Verizon’s ‘My Numbers’ app

For those who have separate phone numbers and devices for your work and personal lives, Verizon wants to help you get more organized. With its new "My Numbers" app, you can use up to four additional phone numbers on a single smartphone.
Mobile

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.
1 of 2