A little over a month ago, Apple released their much-anticipated iOS 7 update. Hidden well under the covers of iOS7 is a new technology that could potentially transform the way businesses engage with their customers and power entirely new business models.
iBeacon is a technology based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) that can be used to pinpoint your indoor location to within a few feet. Think of iBeacon as a GPS for indoor locations. Your phone picks up iBeacon transmissions that come from low-cost transmitters and works out where it is with a high degree of accuracy. Prior to iBeacon, iPhones and other mobile devices relied on GPS and Wi-Fi triangulation to track location. Those are great technologies and remain part of iOS, but they’re only precise within 30 feet or so and usually don’t work well indoors.
Retail: Locate, engage, transact
The most common application will be in retail. By triangulating a customer’s precise location, retailers can deliver personalized offers, coupons and even lead you to a particular product. Payments leader PayPal has announced Beacon, a new payments service that lets people make purchases with their phones, but without even pulling them out of their pockets. Beacon’s USB dongle plugs into point of sale terminals and informs merchants when someone checks in using the PayPal app. They can then send personalized offers, let people know when their orders are ready. To make a purchase, just need to tell the person at the register that you’re using PayPal.
The grocery shopping experience stands to be reinvented when an app on your phone can navigate you through the aisles as you check off items from your shopping list.
Your favorite coffee shop will know the minute you’ve entered the store so they can start preparing your favorite beverage without you having to line-up.
Social: Intersect the digital and physical worlds
Have you ever agreed to meet someone for a coffee who you’ve never met before? There’s always that awkward moment while waiting for the person to show up, wondering if you might have missed them or if they have already arrived. The technology is not limited to the iPhone interacting with just transmitters. In fact, another iPhone can be used as a transmitter to identify the proximity of other users. A variety of social situations, from business networking to dating can be reimagined when devices can be used to identify people within a close proximity.
Tradeshows: Immerse and engage
Tradeshows can dramatically increase engagement by delivering targeted content to attendees without ever needing to visit a booth. Attendees can be far more productive in covering that huge show floor.
Drive into an iBeacon-equipped underground parking garage, park your car there and then have your iPhone direct you back to your exact parking space and process the payment. Pull up next to an iBeacon enabled gas pump and your preferences, loyalty program, and payment are all automatically selected and processed.
Secure Access: Toss away that security badge
By combining iBeacon and fingerprint scanning in the iPhone 5S, the technology could potentially be used to identify authorized users and unlock the door to your office building, car or home.
Entertainment: Create immersive experiences
iBeacon equipped venues can deliver entirely new experiences. The experience at museums and art galleries will certainly be transformed to an immersive one based on targeted content and additional information that cater to your interests.
Major League Baseball plans to roll out an iBeacon program at stadiums next year. Visitors at participating stadiums who have MLB’s At the Ballpark app will get map guidance to their seats, offers at concession stands, and other coupons.
Smart devices: Find your stuff
The $40 Elgato smart key is a keychain that leverages iBeacon technology to help you keys, wallet, or purse (or whatever else you tend to lose or leave behind on a regular basis). It can even set off an alert you when you’re about to walk off leaving your keys or bag behind.
With iBeacon, Apple is enabling an entirely new realm of possibilities for businesses and consumers. Indoor GPS precision opens new doors to new possibilities, allowing yet another chapter in the re-imagination of business.