RealTime IT News

Wi-Fi Positioning Comes to Mac, WinMobile

Skyhook Wireless built the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) to turn an access point into an 802.11-based GPS, but the downside was that it was only available for Windows -- until now. Today, the company announced that its Loki software, a location-aware toolbar for Web browsers, is ready for MacOS as well as Windows Mobile. In addition, Web developers can now use the new Loki JavaScript API to build WPS into Web sites and applications.

Even the Windows XP version of Loki has an update (it's now in version 2.0) that will save even more screen real estate by moving Loki from the toolbar to a browser’s bottom status bar if the user desires. “You can show just what you want, or hide the toolbar completely,” says Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan. “It only comes up when you want to use it.” He says the Mac version will be similar.

The Windows Mobile version is its own application for doing search and finding directions based on your location as determined by the WPS. If you’re not near an AP or APs that are part of the WPS database, the service defaults to using your current IP address to “locate” you.

With the JavaScript API, Morgan hopes that the so-called “Web 2.0” content providers out there will enter the three or four lines of code needed to get a user’s location on demand. “Rather than ask what a user's current location is, as they come to a page, it will request it from the laptop or other device,” says Morgan. “From the first page, what you see is locally tailored to you.” Of course, the sites can only get that information if you tell Loki it’s okay to hand it out. One of the first companies using it is loopt, a “friend-finding” service that uses standard global positioning (GPS) on phones.

The Loki API and documentation will be free to any developers, as are the toolbars and Windows Mobile application to users.

Morgan says Skyhook and the browser makers at Mozilla and Opera are among the founding members of a new group called LocationAware.org, which he calls “a standards body to build location awareness into browsers” in much the same way cookies are built in today, be it through GPS, WPS or whatever may come along.

The WPS database of access points used to pinpoint a person’s location has grown to cover 70% of U.S., Canadian and Australian population centers. International expansion is continuing, specifically in cities like London, Amsterdam and Barcelona in Europe -- Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong in the Asia Pacific region are coming soon. “We have tremendous use overseas,” claims Morgan, even though one third of such users are probably relying on the IP address for the locations. The Loki toolbar has been downloaded 300,000 times, and used for locations lookups four million times, since its debut in March 2006. “Most people just install it and keep it running,” says Morgan. Recently, WPS functionality was also built into a plug-in for the AIM instant messaging software, letting you map the location of people on your “buddy list.”