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3 Reasons Why Indoor Wayfinding Doesn’t Need a Blue Dot

/assets/images/blog/blue-dot-vs-gps.png December 2020

5 min

GPS vs Indoor navigation

‘‘Are we there yet?’’ This classic question has been asked while traveling for years. However, thanks to the blue dot we can now see on our satnavs or favorite map apps, the answer is much clearer. We are accustomed to seeing the blue dot represent how far we’ve come on our outdoor journey and how much is left.

What happens when we move indoors? We stop looking at the blue dot and begin using visual cues and reference points to help us along our way. Why do we make the switch? There are three main reasons why indoor wayfinding doesn’t need a blue dot.

Reason 1: The Real Cost of the Blue Dot

Although we rely on outdoor navigation as both pedestrians and drivers, few of us take time to consider the incredible amount of technology which goes into providing us with the infamous moving blue dot or the purpose which it serves. Outdoor navigation is actually a multi-layer technology based on three key elements: a mapping service, a blue dot service (GPS) and a live traffic data feed. These three services are required to provide a good navigation experience, helping us understand not only what turns to take and how much distance is left, but also the elements which can impact our journey time.

The blue dot service is provided through GPS technology. GPS is dependent upon a series of satellites costing millions of dollars, funded by the government as part of the national security programs. When you divide the costs across the multiple security and commercial uses of GPS, it is easily justified. However, all this stops as soon as you move indoors. Building construction and multi-level interfere with the accuracy of GPS. Providing an accurate blue dot in an indoor environment is complicated and costly.

Reason 2: The Blue Dot isn’t the most helpful tool indoors

Providing an accurate blue dot indoors requires you to deploy your own infrastructure. Often, this is done by installing bluetooth or wifi devices every twenty meters throughout your space. You will not only pay for those devices, but also for the system software needed to calibrate their signals, to provide building visitors with an accurate blue dot. Why do you need so many devices? Indoors we are far freer to move in almost any direction. We aren’t limited to roadways, but instead can go forwards and backwards, side to side and even up and down.

Before you think about making a very sizable investment in a blue dot technology for your building, you may want to consider its usefulness. The truth is that most people aren’t looking for a blue dot to tell them where they are within an indoor space. As pedestrians, we have a better perception of the environment than we have when seated in a car. We can look all around ourselves and easily stop to double-check where we are. Inside the building we have far more details on which we can rely on to figure out our position.

When providing maps and wayfinding indoors, you also need to keep in mind the different locations where the information will be used. Yes, building visitors may want to use their smartphone. However, they could just as easily be looking at the floorplan on their computers before they arrive, or be visiting the information kiosks located around the building. When visitors are standing at the kiosk, providing a blue dot is as simple as adding a You Are Here sticker.

Indoor wayfinding has more uses beyond indicating how to get from A to B. For example, it can be useful for people who already are familiar with the building but are looking for live data such as the office of a colleague or meeting room availability.

Reason 3: Interactivity outranks the Blue Dot

In indoor applications, oftentimes finding the shortest route from one place to another is not the main reason why people look at maps. Instead, maps and floorplans provide a myriad of information beyond how to get there. Take a large shopping mall for an example. People visit the information kiosk to get answers to questions like what restaurants are available and how many specialty shops there are. They may be looking to see what special discounts are available or for information on events and activities.

When looking at how to best allocate your wayfinding budget, you would be better off investing in interactive search tools and accurate, easily-readable maps of the venue. Site visitors will appreciate having the ability to build complex itineraries suited to their needs, rather than a single blue dot with little else.

Focus on offering a seamless outdoor/indoor experience

When considering wayfinding solutions for your site, rather than worrying about a blue dot, focus instead on providing a seamless experience across your interior and exterior spaces. Wayfinding is first and foremost a mapping experience. People want to know what is around them, with as much relevant detail as possible so that they can match up the map with the visual cues around them.

When weighed up against other tools and functionality such as search capabilities and live feeds on occupancy and room availability, the blue dot falls to the bottom of the list. It fails to add enough to the user experience to justify the cost and complexity of ensuring the blue dot is accurate.

If you want to know more about blue dot and Indoor positioning, check out the blog post, How does Indoor Positioning work?

Médéric MOREL's photo


Médéric MOREL, CEO & Co-founder

Médéric is a serial entrepreneur with 25-years experience in the field of Information Technologies. He has written five books about IT performance, IT architecture and complexity management. He is also a regular speaker at numerous international conferences. Médéric is a recognized expert in the field of digital services for smart buildings.