Apple’s iBeacon system has the potential to make your phone even more useful than it is now. If app developers and stores use the technology in the right ways, you could go shopping, eat at a restaurant, or go to a movie, all without speaking to a single human being. Is this a step forward? That’s for another time.
The iBeacon technology is based on Bluetooth Low Energy, which is just a variant of Bluetooth that can be used for two way communication. The technology can also locate where the beacon is coming from with an accuracy of a foot or so (this is far more accurate that GPS). BLE uses a form of triangulation between multiple beacons to relay all this information, and with iOS 7, every Apple device is now capable and sending and receiving these signals within a range of about 500 feet, even if the phone has no Wi-Fi, GPS, or 3G signal. This technology also uses very little energy so it is not a battery drain to run it constantly. To interact with the iPhone, individual transmitters, which are small and cheap, can be purchased from various sources.
The most widely discussed use of how iBeacon could, or will, be used is advertising. Theoretically, if you have a certain app, an advertisement or a coupon could pop up on your screen when you get close enough to that store. However, many would consider this annoying and intrusive, and just uninstall whatever app was doing this. iBeacon is not just another way for apps to make money on advertising opportunities; in fact, if developers focus on the right things, iBeacon may well end up being one of the most useful innovations Apple has created in years. Here are a few scenarios:
1. The iBeacon could finally be the technology that allows you to leave your wallet at home. Apple has been reluctant to include NFC (Near-Field Communication) capabilities in its products and many critics have claimed that it will fall behind in the virtual payment field. Apple’s response may be the iBeacon. If Apple can nail down the security issues, iBeacon would enable the iPhone to act as a credit card allowing payments from anywhere in a store. Theoretically, a customer could scan a bar code with their iPhone camera and then pay directly on the iPhone for that product.
2. Imagine you are in a large store like Walmart (WMT) or BestBuy (BBY) and you need help finding something. iBeacon could help you in two ways. First of all, there could be an app where you can just signal that help is needed, like the flight attendant call button on an airplane, and the customer service center at Walmart could then locate exactly where the beacon is coming from and send an employee to assist you. Furthermore, at a store like Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom (JWN), you could indicate what sort of help you need and an employee specialized in men’s clothing, for example, could be sent. Or, a store could provide assistance within the app itself. The BLE is accurate enough to give in-store directions to where the specific product is located thus limiting the need for employees in the first place.
3. Restaurants could also take advantage of this technology. Large chains, like Applebee’s or Panera (PNRA), could introduce apps which could allow the restaurants to operate with far fewer waiters. When a client walks into the restaurant, they could indicate the size of their party through an iBeacon, and then they would be directed to a table using the BLE technology. Once they are seated, the menu would appear on the iPhone and they could place their orders without the waiter having to come to the table. If they needed assistance of any sort, they could just tap a “waiter” button on the iPhone and a waiter would be sent. Finally, the clients could pay with their iPhones and leave.
4. iBeacon technology would allow you to use your iPhone as a car key. Again, the security issues would need to be sorted out, but if Apple could ensure that this system was not easy to hack into, it would be incredible. Essentially, your car would have an iBeacon that would communicate with your iPhone. When you come close to your car, it unlocks, turns on the air conditioning, puts the windows down, or whatever you have customized for it to do.
5. Home automation will be able to use iBeacon technology as well. By placing iBeacons around your house, you could make it so that the lights and electricity follow the iBeacon. When you leave a room, the lights turn off just as the lights in the next room turn on. When you walk upstairs to the bedroom, the TV turns on; the possibilities are endless.
6. iBeacon could help even the most absent-minded of us keep track of everything. If all electronics were built with an iBeacon in them, then a user could just open an app on their iPhone and find their laptop, electric toothbrush, or any object that has an iBeacon. This could work in the opposite direction as well. There could be a radar device that one could use when searching for your iPhone when you are sure it is in a certain room or building.
7. BeHere is an app that enables classroom attendance to be taken automatically and could be applied to many different fields where knowing who and how many people are present is important.
These are just a few ways that iBeacon could add functionality to your iPhone. Although one application of the technology is advertising, it is one of the less exciting and useful uses for the consumer. As the technology becomes more understood and utilized, developers will undoubtedly come up with even more creative ways to use the iBeacon. This could be an opportunity for Apple to ensure the iPhone is the must-have device in the smartphone world with this interactive iBeacon Technology. I Know First is one of the most reliable source to see where Apple stock will go in the future. Click here to see how this will affect Apple Stock according to I Know First’s algorithm.