What’s Next for Skyhook Wireless? Location Tech for Games, E-Books, and, Yes, Android Phones

3/16/11Follow @gthuang

Skyhook Wireless may have won the audience favorite vote during the “location smackdown” at Xconomy’s Mobile Madness conference last week, but people in the tech-business community are still wondering: what’s next for the firm?

Boston-based Skyhook, founded in 2003, is a pioneer in location-positioning technology for mobile devices. The company’s software determines the precise location of a device based on data from Wi-Fi networks, cellular towers, and GPS satellites. The technology is deployed in thousands of mobile apps and tens of millions of devices worldwide, made by the likes of Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Dell, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Intel, and Sony.

But the company hit a rough patch last year. In July, Skyhook confirmed that Apple dropped its location-finding software from the latest iPhone (and the iPad) in favor of Apple’s own technology. And in September, Skyhook filed a pair of lawsuits against Google, alleging that the search and advertising giant infringed on Skyhook’s patents with its in-house location system, and also interfered with contracts Skyhook had with Motorola and Samsung last spring (to put Skyhook’s software on the manufacturers’ Android phones).

Many observers have interpreted those competitive interactions as a serious threat to Skyhook’s business. The question I’ve been hearing on the street from tech entrepreneurs is, does Skyhook need to reinvent itself, or “pivot” in a big way?

Not so much, says Ted Morgan, Skyhook’s founder and CEO. The company’s current growth plans are “less a pivot” than a question of “how do we do more?” he says. In an interview last week, Morgan laid out his firm’s plans to compete on different types of devices and in a wider range of mobile applications. He also had more to say about the situation with Apple and Google, and its broader significance to startups and the mobile industry.

Reading between the lines, my take is that the company is adjusting its strategy because of these tech giants—it really has to—but it’s not a drastic change. (Then again, if Skyhook were planning to make a big strategic shift, it wouldn’t want Google and Apple to know about it.)

Morgan began by giving a high-level pshaw to naysayers who think Skyhook’s core business is petering out. “The strategy is more sound than ever,” he says. “Google is the only competitor. We own all the intellectual property around it. While the Google [litigation] is a headache, you couldn’t ask for a better market to be in.”

What’s more, he touts Skyhook’s ability to “get around Google” by working … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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