Mobile Location / Mobile Marketing

iBeacon Lights up Retail Location

Apple are staying pretty quiet about iBeacon.  Which is pretty strange for something that could make indoor location targeting a reality, enable some mind-blowing in-store marketing and potentially kill mobile payments via NFC.   iBeacon was announced by Apple in June at WWDC.  Well, they popped it on a slide in the keynote, but provided no details about it.  Then there was the iPhone 5 event last week and once again iBeacon didn’t rate a mention.  So what is iBeacon?

iBeacon is a feature of iOS7 that provides support for tiny, low cost transmitters (called iBeacons) to communicate with an iPhone via Bluetooth.  So developers could build iBeacons into doors, lights, whitegoods, stereos, TVs or anything else that can be controlled or activated.  By communicating with the iBeacon, an iPhone can then control the device.

iBeacon takes advantage of Bluetooth technology which has been around for a few years called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE, also called Bluetooth Smart, is a wireless technology that allows ‘smart’ devices to run for years on tiny coin sized batteries without being recharged.  The BLE protocol enables all sorts of ‘smart ‘hardware to be developed and is an obvious opportunity in smartphones. For an interesting look at what BLE has done for smart hardware and the internet of things, check out this article on Techcrunch.

iBeacon is in the iPhone 5 but it’s basically just software support which means any iPhone user who upgrades to iOS7 will be enabled for iBeacons. But it’s not just about opening doors and controlling your TV from the couch.

iBeacons open up a whole world of opportunity for marketers. Basically a wireless sensor could be placed in any physical space and transmit data to your iPhone using BLE.  So a retailer could place sensors in all its store displays, which then prompt passing customers with special promotions, product information or personalised messages.  Have a look at this funky demo video for a new product called Estimote,  which shows how a retailer could make iBeacons work in store. The Estimote beacons will sell at $99 for 3.

iBeacons are also integrated with Apple’s Passbook, extending the geofencing capability that already exists with the application.  This means a retailer can trigger an alert for anyone with a ticket, pass or loyalty card in Passbook.  The alert would pop up on the customer’s lock screen as soon as they moved into an iBeacon’s micro location zone.

Finally, this is not just an Apple innovation.  Although Google has been very focussed on NFC, they released support for BLE in the latest Android OS upgrade in August, so this means for the first time, the two major smartphone platform vendors are providing support for the same wireless technology.

The future looks connected!

 

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3 Comments

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  2. There are many retail applications for iBeacon feature in iOS7. We help retailers integrate iBeacon functionality into their existing app and supply them with with BLE hardware at http://www.beaconmaker.com

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