Apple’s brilliant iBeacons system will enable purchases, contextual marketing, automated check-ins and much more

“Apple cryptically introduced the iBeacons initiative at its developers conference in June, identifying the new technology as a feature of the iOS software developers kit (SDK),” Mike Elgan reports for Computerworld. “In fact, iBeacons is a Bluetooth-based micro-locations system (think very accurate GPS that can be used indoors). But instead of being used by people to determine their own locations, it’s used by retailers, museums and businesses of all kinds to find out exactly where people are, so they can automatically serve up highly relevant interactions to customers’ phones.”

“According to Apple, iBeacons is used for the following: Region monitoring: To identify the general area the user is in, such as a stadium or a mall. Ranging and micro-locations: To determine how far the user is from something, and specifically where the user is. The iBeacons technology may be able to detect ranges from two inches to 160 feet,” Elgan reports. “In a presentation to developers, Apple gave multiple examples of how iBeacons might work in the real world. For instance, the company said that the technology can determine exactly where a user is. If you walked into, say, Jay’s Donut Shop, iBeacons would know for certain that you had walked into Jay’s Donut shop, whereas other location apps might use GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular triangulation to produce a list of guesses about where you were.”

MacDailyNews Take: And, as anyone who’s used geo-location already knows, it’s not nearly accurate enough to work reliably. You could be standing in front of a Starbucks, but if the app thinks the shop is on the other side of the parking lot, it can’t do what it’s supposed to do.

“Apple announced in early August the acquisition of a startup called WifiSLAM… [whose] technology triangulates both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (BLE) to enable precise location tracking indoors. In the context of iBeacon, Apple should be able to know how far a user is from both iBeacons and Wi-Fi hotspots, pinpointing the user’s location to within inches,” Elgan reports. “The final piece of the puzzle for the point-of-sale and transaction part is user authentication, which Apple revealed with the introduction of Touch ID fingerprint sensors… The less insightful commentary on Touch ID suggested that its purpose is to protect the cat videos and electronic receipts on your iPhone — in other words, protect the iPhone itself. But the real purpose of Touch ID is to authenticate users… Apple’s plan is so good — so elegant and cost effective — that it won’t just kill cash registers. It will probably kill NFC, too.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Retailers in the not-too-distant future: “We’d like to offer our services for your cheap-shit, slip-shod, pie-pan-sized fragmandroid phone, but we cannot accurately authenticate that the POS is even yours, it’s too inaccurate to reliably determine indoor locations, and odds are very high that your OS version is too old anyway — not to mention that we already know that you’re a cheapskate and not the greatest decision-maker, so… iPhone-only, beotch!”

40 Comments

    1. As its using Bluetooth for this, it wouldn’t actually know who you are till you took some action on your part. It would only know there was someone there and exactly where they are/were.

      1. It would only take a single action to identify you from then on just like a loyalty program, but automatic and silent. Given corporate preponderance for employing “big-data” techniques and warehousing in concert with Bluetooth using an identifiable PIN and (MAC-like) address for the protocol, it will be easy for, say, Walmart to create a database of customers with a *lot* of personal information and shopping habits. Peoples’ movements through stores and malls are already being tracked and saved via their phones, iBeacon raises that data’s granularity to a new level a quantum above the current.

        1. So, how much harm can a retailer do if they know what you usually buy? Perhaps they might try to introduce you to other related products that you might like or need. Maybe they will offer you discounts on those products to get you to try them. How horrible will that be? They might even direct you to the isle that you could find those products in or maybe even try to unload excess inventory off on you because they know you like to buy bulk. Those unscrupulous store owners are out to try to give you better service and might even get away with it. Make sure you opt out and buy your tin foil from another store so they don’t know that you line your hat with it.

    2. Yes, this wonderful feature designed to reduce battery life and unleash unrelenting advertising to intice customers to spend more money on stuff can be, fortunately, disabled by the user.

        1. Wow, SilverHawk, you understand the obvious. That must make you unique among the Apple fanbois. You know, you might be getting too smart to be a card carrying member.

        1. Did you not realize that store owners have eyes and can physically watch you? Are you so slow that you struggle to realize that you are often on camera in stores too? Tell me, how do you turn off the ‘eyes’ feature of the store owner? Are you going to hand out blindfolds when you walk in?

  1. Not mentioned is the fact that this iBeacon technology can be used by people to find out what is going on in or around their home, care or baby’s room.

    The technology has far more uses than mentioned in the press.

  2. Very exciting. Google has tried unsuccessfully to evangelize NFC in the US, while NFC has had adoption in Europe and Japan. App,e is quietly inferring that NFC is a dead-end. With the ability to function only at 1-2″ with success, it is somewhat limited. IBeacon can do much more and at a standoff distance.

    The trick will be evangelizing this and makng it an industry standard, not just an Apple standard. Visa and Mstercard have invested a lot into NFC, and getting them on board will be critical, as will be true for American Express, Discover, Square, Paypal, airlines, transit systems, stadiums (NFL, MLB, NBA, concert promoters, movie theaters, department stores, such as Walmart, Costco, Target, Macy’s and others). Hospitals could adopt iBeacons to know where a doctor is within the facility.

    iBeacons could track track merchandise in stores such as Walmart, to update inventory automatically, and even detect theft.If you apply enough imagination, there is no end of how low power Bluetooth and iBeacon technology could be har employed.

    If Appple can successfully evangelize iBeacon with these large players, this could dramatically change retail, people management, theft detection and prevention, healthcare, merchandise and inventory management, transportation, package tracking and more.

    It comes down to the partnerships that Apple can nurture with the key players who could make or break this technology and initiative. iBeacon’s future rests not just on the technology, but the deals and partnerships that can be cut that could assure its future as the standard instead of being handcufffed by the limits of NFC technology.

    Apple can’t innovate? My ass.

    1. ” Visa and Mstercard have invested a lot into NFC, and getting them on board will be critical, as will be true for American Express, Discover, Square, Paypal, airlines, transit systems, stadiums (NFL, MLB, NBA, concert promoters, movie theaters, department stores, such as Walmart, Costco, Target, Macy’s and others).”

      What will get them on board is instant, foolproof authentication via Authentec. Imagine a customer picks up an item in the store, his iPhone identifies the item and asks if a purchase is desired. The user then touches the “Home” button on his iPhone to authorize the purchase, which debits his associated account, credits the retailer’s account, and deactivates anti-shoplifting technology on the purchased item. Instant shopping – no clerks, no cash register, no bar code stickers – retail reinvented.

      1. Like Apple’s in store purchasing system … in your scenario the only thing iBeacons is being used for is tracking whether the items in my hand as I leave the store have been paid for. The customer would still need to scan the item via iPhone camera, and pay for it via some iWallet or in store app.

        1. iBeacons is in addition to NFC, just as NFC is in addition to conventional transactions. A retailer or credit card company doesn’t have to abandon one in order top use the other, but if a technology doesn’t gain traction it will be allowed to wither away.

          iBeacons certainly appears to be a 21st century solution and offers a host of advantages both to retailer and customer while also being very simple to use.

        2. You guys are stuck in the present. What if the item being picked up broadcasts its barcode information? What if the receipt appears as a PDF on your iPhone? What if it’s paid for through your iTunes account and your connected credit card? All of these things are easy. It’s the reliable authorization that has been missing.

          1. Zeke – I understand what you’re proposing. I’m just saying that the technology you’re talking about doesn’t exist yet. Some form of BT tech would need to be imbedded in every product to do as you’re proposing. That’s cost prohibitive. As well, there is no system in place for an iPhone to do no contact payments (yet). It wouldn’t take much to do that, but it’s not available yet.

            I LOVE Apple products, and I am in awe that Apple (under Steve Jobs) was able to change entire industries (music, phone, mobile computing, etc.) At some point though, you have to stop bucking every system, and start using some of what’s in place. NFC no contact payments systems are in place. And if I’m a major retailer, I’m not going to invest in a new system to allow iPhone users to do what Android users can currently do.

            Yes I know that NFC is considered insecure, but Apple just launched a tech that could secure NFC. I can envision using NFC for no contact payments in this way – instead of constantly broadcasting an NFC from an iPhone (as Android phones currently do) – how about requiring a finger print scan that activates a micro-burst NFC signal broadcast? As was explained in the article above, NFC’s range is inches. For someone to hijack that NFC broadcast, they would literally need to be standing, not next to me, but on top of me, with their device right next to mine. And again, the major security issue with NFC is not the low level signal, or short broadcast range, but the fact that it’s constantly on with current devices that use it. So change that … innovate a more secure way to use the current in place system, without expecting large outlays of cash for retailers.

            I think iBeacons is very exciting – I can envision Apple Stores not having to use bolted down iPads for their product info displays anymore. Use your iPhone or iPad with iBeacons. That’s great, practical and easily implemented. Setting up a system to recognize that you’re holding a item, allow you to pay for the item and disabling security for the item is years or decades away. NFC exists now. Apple needs to stop bucking the system, and figure out a way to make what’s currently available secure and workable.

            1. I agree with some of what you say, however, when has Apple EVER “…stop[ped] bucking the system, and figure[d] out a way to make what’s currently available secure and workable[?]”

      2. Don’t forget the receipt or proof of purchase! The same should be emailed to you upon purchase. However, the name iBeacon sounds more like an advertising or surveillance function more than a service to make a purchase sans store staff.

        1. MacFreek – not if you’ve ever been involved in radio. In that context, a “beacon” is a known radio source from which you can determine quite a bit of information, especially when combined with one or more other beacons. (But for the vast majority of Americans who probably think “lighthouse” when they see that name, you may have a point.)

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