Skyhook Wireless brings location services to wearables in a petite package

Skyhook Wireless has been working on location technology for longer than many of the biggest names in smartphones have been around. Today it launched a new SDK aimed at bringing location to wearables in an extremely small code footprint.

The challenge with wearables when it comes to location is that there isn’t a lot of real estate inside them and thus they tend to have underpowered chip technology and smaller batteries — too small to deal with location. That has meant that up until now, most wearable companies have had to rely on a more powerful surrogate for that power, typically linking the device to a smartphone for location purposes.

Skyhook’s Precision Location for Wearables SDK released today is designed to bring those location services directly to the wearable without the need for a location middle man. It’s reduced the size of the code dramatically to the point that it can be built directly into a wearable’s firmware and placed on the tiny chip inside the gadget, David Bairstow, VP of product at Skyhook told TechCrunch.

The software transmits the location information back to Skyhook’s servers and you can track it through an app or web page.

In terms of how this will play out, think about a fitness tracker you use that generally relies on the smartphone to track where you ran. With this technology, it should be capable of tracking your location itself. You can log on to your account and get that information directly from the device now.

Another use case is a tiny camera from a company called Narrative, which is a partner of Skhyook’s. The camera, which is small enough to wear on your lapel, will capture the location as you move about the world and take pictures in different places.

All of this tracking raises privacy issues of course, but Bairstow says most of his company’s location technology is completely opt-in and configurable on the device, depending on the device of course. One of the use cases is a tracker for children and the idea is to provide safe geographical areas. When the child steps outside of a safe area, the parent would be informed. In that case, you probably wouldn’t want to shut off location, but in most cases the user would want control of that.

The pricing for the new service is based on an expected volume of location requests, according to Bairstow.

Skyhook Wireless was founded way back in 2003, so it was a visionary in its own way. It raised a modest $16.8 million before it was sold to TruePosition, a subsidiary of Liberty Media in 2014. The company has the distinction of being the location software on the first iPhone.

After that, both Google and Apple went their own way on location. In fact, the company sued Google several times over patent infringement and unfair competition. The move to wearables is a way to keep the company relevant in a changing market controlled by giants.