Blog skyhook logo Rethinking How Wearables Use Location Data

Mar 17, 2016 9:30:00 AM

Rethinking How Wearables Use Location Data

Posted by Skyhook

Read All Posts

There has been a rapid evolution in the mobile devices market, from smartphones to tiny wearable devices that fit on your wrist. The wearable market is expected to reach a value of $19 billion in 2018, according to Statista. According to the most recent forecast data from the International Data Corporation (IDC), by 2019, total shipment volumes are forecast to reach 126.1 million units, resulting in a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.1%.

As the market expands, the need for a compelling differentiator and a device that is vital to the user is a top priority. The availability of precise and accurate location to wearable devices can open up critical new use cases and experiences, ranging from fitness tracking, to adding context to photographic memories in real time, to providing parents with the peace of mind of knowing the location of their children. When accuracy is of the utmost importance, precise location can fill the void.

The need for location on wearable devices is obvious and opens up a new world of capabilities for the wearable industry that they haven’t had historically. And having device level location allows these devices to function in the same capacity as a smartphone, allowing the device to stand alone and not rely on being connected to the phone.

Everything is Shrinking

When you compare a smartphone to a smaller wearable device: Smartphones are getting more powerful, data plans are getting cheaper and batteries are getting better. Smartphones have the computing power that is comparable to a home computer. On the other hand, wearables have been introduced with less processing power and smaller batteries, requiring less bandwidth compared to a smartphone. So you have a massive dichotomy with what each type of device has space for.


Because of the limitations in bandwidth and footprint, many wearables have not had the ability to use what we call a hybrid location positioning system with the combination of Wi-Fi, GPS and cell. GPS has become synonymous with location, people say "my GPS has been bad on my phone." The truth is, for reliable location, particularly indoors or in urban environments, hybrid positioning systems need to be used. Hybrid location is what smartphones use today. On smaller devices that are only using GPS, it is equivalent to where smartphones were 10 years ago.


In most cases, smaller devices have been limited to just GPS and people assume that if they put a GPS radio in the device that they get good location all the time. They don't consider what other types of radios are necessary to get accurate location. Other devices have been limited to no location at all because GPS is too expensive, not only in terms of how much money it costs, but also in terms of power consumption and data. Certainly the same thing can be said for Wi-Fi in terms of module/hardware costs and power consumption. In recent years however, hardware and radios have come down significantly in costs and new solutions (such as Wi-Fi radios that scan only) have become commonplace in the market. Having the option to use Wi-Fi for positioning opens up opportunities for smaller devices that may already have Wi-Fi for general network connectivity or other functionality. 

Empowering a New World

Think of a world where there are no more constraints or limitations. We have reimagined location in order to make this a reality. Skyhook began with precise location for mobile, focusing on a fast and accurate hybrid location solution. With the introduction of much smaller devices like wearables, our goal became to ensure that any type of device can get the best location no matter the size, operating system, or combination of radio signals.

With many different iterations, each solution lighter than the previous, we finally created a new Precision Location for Wearables solution, the lightest packaged location solution in the wearables market today. Skyhook’s new Precision Location for Wearables product comes with a footprint that is one-hundred times lighter and data transmission rates that are ten times smaller than its predecessor. With this significantly lighter and more cost effective solution, all manufacturers, solution providers, application developers and their customers can now benefit from the power of location.

Improving Experiences With Device Level Location

This cost effective and lighter location solution opens up new possibilities and use cases for wearables that were not possible before.

Take Narrative for example. A few years ago the use case of a mobile camera revolved only around the smartphone and now it’s the world’s smallest wearable camera and the use cases are endless. Having location at the device level gives consumers the ability to include location-based context with the moments and stories they capture and share with the world. Location data is a foundational element to providing a tailored and dynamic user experience. Narrative is at the forefront of this contextual wearable revolution, and with the integration location, Narrative’s users will now be able to geotag their photos and videos with unmatched precision, adding context to their photographic memories.

With a lighter location solution that surpasses the limitations of small devices, the industry can imagine an unlimited amount of use cases that were not possible before. And as devices continue to evolve, so will the location solutions that we can provide. The ultimate goal is to deliver a vital experience and use case for the user, and location is a fundamental piece of this experience.