September 22, 2014

34 Weeks of OHA: #24

Company Name: SiRF Technology Holdings, Inc.

How the OHA site classifies them: Semiconductor Company

What the OHA site says about them: SiRF is the leading provider of GPS enabled location platforms for mainstream markets with focus on wireless, automotive, consumer electronic and mobile compute devices.

What they do:

SiRF Technology, Inc. is a world leader in creating technologies that confer “location awareness” or “location intelligence” to a wide range of consumer products… In the constant tension between lost and found, SiRF’s GPS solutions tip the odds in favor of being found.

Location intelligence, eh? I need some of that. And that bit about “the constant tension between lost and found” is lyrical and profound. These SiRF folks give good copy.

They’re GPS chipset makers. And, judging by information from the wikipedia page covering their SiRFstarIII, they’re damned good GPS chipset makers. The SiRFstarIII is a high sensitivity GPS receiver, noted especially for its ability to get a signal in dense, obscured environments. Like, say, one’s bathroom. Ever tried to get a GPS signal in your bathroom? It doesn’t happen. Trust me, I’ve tried. I would have been screwed if I hadn’t by chance discovered that I wasn’t nearly as lost as I thought I was and my living room was just on the other side of that door. Perhaps if I had a SiRFstarIII handy I would have made it out before day twelve and wouldn’t have been forced to eat the frozen buttocks of my dead colleague.

The list of companies that use the SiRFstarIII is impressive: Acer, Asus, Fujitsu-Siemens (hee-hee, I said “siemens”), HTC, Hitachi, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Packard Bell, Samsung… It’s even used by Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom, so they’ve got the GPS luminaries on board.

The secret to the SiRFstarIII is a whole whack of ARM processing power built in. It can decode the truth in situations, such as heavy urban areas, where the GPS signal is reflected and bouncing around and confused, and it can deal with weak signals, such as in forested areas. It also has a really really smokin’ fast acquisition time, so if the signal drops it can be snatched up again quickly.

Cool beans.

What they bring to OHA and Android:

SiRF is actively working on the Android platform to include some of the more innovative features of Secure User Plane Location (SUPL), a standards-based protocol that allows a mobile handset client to communicate with a SUPL Location Platform (SLP), including transport layer security (TLS) for location privacy and multiple session capabilities to provide the most compelling user experience. SiRF is also implementing support for Android-based assisted GPS (A-GPS) handsets, including mobile station based (MSB) and mobile station assisted (MSA) positioning methods to facilitate the Android platform passing Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and 3GPP conformance testing for third-party certification.

“SiRF is applying its vast end-to-end location solutions experience in working with leading global handset manufacturers, LBS infrastructure vendors, application providers and wireless operators to deliver a robust, high-performance location capability to the Android platform,” said Kanwar Chadha, founder and VP of marketing for SiRF. “We believe our ardent focus on driving the location ecosystem gives us a distinct advantage when it comes to understanding the handset location capability certification process as well as the subtleties of how GPS and other technologies need to mesh in order to create a truly seamless locative experience for consumers in the applications they care about.”

Well goddamn. Want to know what that means? You sure? Alright… SUPL, or Secure User Plane Location, is basically a communications standard for A-GPS systems (which require communication with a server to determine location). MSB refers to a positioning system where the mobile device both acquires the positioning information and does the location calculation itself, whereas an MSA system communicates the positioning information to the network for location computation. As for a location ecosystem, that’s just marketing speak. Feel better?

Here’s the important stuff you should know: location awareness is probably the most essential piece of the Android puzzle for Google’s bottom line. Reliable knowledge of a user’s location is what will really enable Google to take their targeted ads to the next level. On a home PC or laptop, Google can target based on browsing habits and mail content; on a mobile platform with GPS or reliable cell-tower triangulation tech those ads can be far more situational and far more tailored to the users current context. Check this bit from a USA Today article from back in January, in which Cole Brodman, T-Mobile’s Chief Development Officer is quoted:

By combining “unique information about consumers from the Web,” he says, with “other information” from mobile devices, such as location, “Google believes search responses can be much more targeted for Google, and that the value they can bring back to advertisers can be quite a bit higher.”

The location awareness focus for Android was made even more obvious when the first round winners of the Developers Challenge was announced. Apps that made use of location awareness in innovative ways made up a dominant percentage of the rewarded software.

It’s clear that SiRF is going to play a major role in this strategy. They have the tech, thay have a bunch of fancy buzzwords like “location ecosystem”, and it appears that they’re crotch-deep in this Android thing helping Google fully realize the potential of a location-aware platform.

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