A few years ago, it might have felt like the stuff of science fiction, but beacon technology built on BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) communications has the potential to change the way we shop and live. Imagine installing an app on your BLE-enabled mobile device, going to a store, and being able to view information about products by simply tapping your smartphone or tablet on a product. With small beacon devices placed all around the store, you might event receive welcome discounts just because it's the first time you used the iBeacon app in a particular store. Our report provides you with a brief overview of iBeacon in action and beyond.
In addition to what we noted in our opening summary, users will also be able to be to a baseball game and be able to check out which concession stand has the shortest line or where promotions are being offered. Users will also be able to get to an airport and immediately get important flight information on your device, including cancellations and directions to gate you need. This is what beacon technology is promising consumers, and according to the Washington Post, the economic impact worldwide could be worth trillions of dollars.
Which Apple Devices Support iBeacon?
According to Apple, iBeacon technology will work with the following mobile devices running iOS 7 or later, and have Bluetooth turned on in the settings: the iPhone 4S or later; iPad 3rd generation or later; iPad Mini or later and iPod Touch 5th generation or later.
Why Use BLE Instead of GPS or NFC?
GPS (Global Positioning System) is not meant for indoor micro-location use, being inaccurate for distances of less than 30 feet. NFC, while used for years as part of payment technologies in mobile handsets in parts of Europe and Asia, is the opposite GPS in that it can only work for very short distances. NFC range is theoretically 20cm or less than 8 inches, although optimal distance is 4cm or just over 1.5 inches. While BLE-based sensors are more expensive than NFC chips, their range is up to 50 meters or just over 164 feet — making for more versatile use, including the aforementioned micro-location awareness.
Some of the Retailers using iBeacon Technology Today
Apple's iBeacon technology is being adopted quickly and because of this Patently Apple has started a special iBeacon related Archive that will stay on top of new developments which will help you learn about some of the more inventive ways that iBeacon is now being used.
The following is just a simple list of retailers that have jumped onto the first wave of iBeacon technology. You could check out this technology for yourself at these well-known retail chains: Duane Read, Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Giant Eagle, Safeway, JC Penny, Macys, Target and of course Apple Stores. Expect many more retailers to jump on board for the all-important holiday season.
So what's in it for the Consumer?
There are many consumer experience scenarios that can be improved by beacon technology and micro-location awareness. Some of the uses listed below are either already implemented, about to be implemented, or could potentially be implemented.
• Can be used to offer short-duration discounts to nearby shoppers.
• Incentives at gas stations, car dealerships and more.
• Beacons can be tapped by a mobile device, after which the device would receive information about the products on a given shelf. This is the feature that surveyed consumers are most interested.
• For ticket holders, a mobile view of their tickets, directions to seats in a sports stadium or to the shortest concession lines.
• Customized welcome messages, with on-demand specials.
• Customized exit surveys, with incentives for your next visit.
• Digital coupons pushed to a customer's mobile device based on where they are in a store — such as in a specific grocery store aisle.
• Interactive maps for grocery shopping
• Links to reviews of a particular alerted-to product.
• Digital personal shopper, with custom recommendations based on previous shopping history, including online shopping behavior — if a consumer has opted-in.
• Access to full issues of digital magazines for patrons of coffee shops, doctors and dentist offices, and more.
• Automated mobile tour guides in museums and other places.
• Control of home automation based on your presence. This is an interesting point considering that Home Automation may be introduced next week at Apple's developer's conference next week
• Toys that can react to each other's location.
What about Security?
This is a legitimate concern, especially for technology that knows where you are, so to speak, within certain areas. Security is what each retailer and other organizations make it, for their respective apps. Consumers should preview what an app collects or not before using them. There are also concerns by some privacy advocates that beacon devices could be cloned or spoofed. Given that there is speculation that Apple will build a mobile payment system on iBeacon, these security concerns need to be demonstrably dealt with and protected against.
Shopping in the Future
Without a doubt there'll be kinks in beacon technology to iron out in early stages, and that means that customers will initially be frustrated. Other hurdles include the multiple layers of permissions that are required for micro-location awareness, including turning on Bluetooth on a device, accepting location services from a specific app and opt-in for marketing notifications.
Regardless of the type of beacon technology, however, the potential for improved experiences in shopping, entertainment, travel and other purposes will likely create enough demand that these technologies will be smoothed out sooner rather than later — after which consumers will possibly wonder how we ever got along without these micro-location-aware experiences in our everyday lives.