Following Apple's intellectual property filings every week is one of the ways of getting a sense of future products and trends that the company may be thinking of adopting over time. Another way is to watch for new companies that Apple is acquiring. For example, last March Apple acquired WiFiSLAM, a specialty indoor location navigation company. Prior to that announcement we didn't even know that Apple had the least interest in that area of technology. Within days of the acquisition, an Apple patent application published by the US Patent Office revealed that Apple was indeed working on indoor navigation since at least late 2011. Three weeks after that, a second patent came to light about finding your car in an indoor parking structure using an indoor location application. Then in November, we learned that iBeacon, an indoor location technology, could also be used in conjunction with an e-ecommerce iWallet service. That revelation was found in four trademark filings from Apple for the word "iBeacon." Then last month we learned of iBeacon being strengthened for e-commerce security. In eleven months we've gone from not knowing anything about indoor location services to it exploding onto the scene. Today, an ABI Research report forecasts a huge wave of 800 million smartphones will incorporate indoor location technology by 2018.
According to a new ABI report published this afternoon, iBeacons are fast becoming the foot soldiers of indoor location in retail, bringing awareness and adoption, but it is just one of over 10 indoor location technologies competing in this $5 billion space. A host of new, higher-accuracy, "infrastructure-free" technologies are forecast to change the face of and use case for indoor location in the future.
A senior ABI analyst Patrick Connolly noted in the report that "We see huge growth for infrastructure-based technologies like Wi-Fi and iBeacons, with BLE deployments forecast to break 20,000 by 2015, largely focused on retail. But the arrival of high-accuracy handset-based technologies like sensor fusion, LED, magnetic field and a host of others, will also enable a whole new set of consumer applications and services around ambient intelligence, social networking, corporate/enterprise, fitness/health, mobile advertising, and gaming. With over 800 million smartphones actively using indoor location for applications by 2018, it will be as standard as GPS is today."
ABI's VP and Practice Director, Dominique Bonte added that "iBeacons and BLE location make indoor easy and cheap, but that also opens the door to a host of new competitors. Those at the forefront are already aggressively pursuing new, sub-meter handset-based technologies. This will give the edge in both the retail and consumer spaces."
In a recent Mashable report, Lance Ulanoff gives us a clear account of his recent iBeacon experience at Apple's Grand Central Store in New York City. I personally used the system last summer in an Apple Store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It must have been one of the first cities to have been testing it. I couldn't get over how easy it was.
Checkout Lines, Who Needs Them?
In case you don't remember or were too young to care, IBM ran a commercial seven years ago about the Future Experience at the Market where checkout lines would be a thing of the past. I thought that the IBM commercial was pushing it a bit until I experienced something close to that at the Apple store. It's still not as easy as IBM made it out to be – but it's not that far off either.
It looks like Apple is going to be one of the leaders in the area of indoor location services and we didn't even have it on our radar screens a year ago. The San Jose Mercury News reported last month that "As of Monday, InMarket's "Mobile to Mortar" iBeacon feature is available in dozens of Safeway and Giant Eagle stores in San Francisco, Seattle and Cleveland, but InMarket says the number will grow to more than 150 in the next couple of weeks and thousands of stores, grocery and other types, by the end of 2014.
The way that iBeacon has exploded onto the technology stage with everyone writing about it, it's no wonder that ABI is boldly forecasting that 800 million smartphones will have indoor location technology built-in by 2018. One thing is for sure: Apple is recognized as one of the leaders in this emerging market and that shouldn't really surprise anyone by now.