Symbian OS Gets Skyhook Location System

10/21/08Follow @wroush

Back in January, Boston’s Skyhook Wireless scored a huge win by getting its Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS)—which helps cellphones and laptops determine their locations by listening for nearby wireless hotspots—into the Apple iPhone. And every few weeks since then I’ve gotten another note from Skyhook, saying that WPS or its hybrid GPS/Wi-Fi/cellular-based cousin, XPS, has been incorporated into yet another system, whether it be camera phones, memory cards for cameras, Mac desktop applications, or browsers.

And now Skyhook has pulled off its biggest coup since the Apple deal, getting WPS added to Symbian—the operating system used on hundreds of mobile phones made by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, and other manufacturers.

In an announcement today, Skyhook said that Symbian phones running WPS were being demonstrated at this week’s Symbian Smartphone Show in London. The demonstration proves that WPS can be successfully integrated with the location-based services already built into Symbian OS 9.5, the latest version of the operating system, the company said. These features allow owners of Symbian phones to do things like exchanging Wi-Fi-derived “location tags” which can be shared with GPS-based mapping programs, helping phone owners to navigate to one another’s positions.

While many Symbian phones can already determine their locations using GPS, the main selling point for WPS has always been that GPS signals are often weak or unavailable indoors and in dense urban areas. Mike Whittingham, vice president of ecosystem development for Symbian Limited, said in a statement that Skyhook’s WPS is “an innovative solution that will enable the future revenue opportunities of location-based services.”

Mike Shean, vice president of business development, called the Symbian deal “an important milestone” for the company, given that Symbian is the world’s leading provider of smartphone operating systems. “This demonstration shows how Wi-Fi-based positioning can be used by Symbian OS-based devices to enable many innovative and location aware applications,” Shean said.

There was no word in the company’s announcement about when the first Symbian-based smartphones with WPS will be available to consumers.

I fully expect the parade of Skyhook-enabled phones and applications to continue; it won’t be long, I predict, before WPS or XPS show up in a Google Android phone, given the large percentage of Android applications that draw on location information.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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