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Checking In with Apple iBeacons: What are they up to these days?

2 April, 2014 | Article Source: Rob LaPointe  |   (No Comments) | 12,215 Views

iBeacons, for those that don’t know, are physical hardware devices that can be placed anywhere you want them. For a basic run-down of function: they use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to reach out and connect to compatible mobile devices at about a 50 meter range (varies due to environmental factors). Devices within the connected area can communicate with the beacon, allowing whoever controls it to send messages back and forth between connected devices and the iBeacon.

The basic, showcase example of iBeacons is placing them around a retail store, allowing the store to communicate with a dedicated app on the shoppers’ phones. And when they want to make a purchase, the iBeacon can turn that app into a simple and easy POS. So now that they’ve been out for a while, where are they?

Where are the iBeacons?

iBeacons rolled out last year, and didn’t garner much attention compared to some of the flashier bits and bobs that were coming out, but they did get noticed, and numerous retailers are now using them for payments and promotions. By placing beacons in stores, they are able to provide a small boost in convenience to consumers. I suspect some pioneering retailers may have more unexpected plans up their sleeves, which I eagerly await news of.

iBeacons have also been incorporated into a variety of sports stadiums, including those of 20 MLB teams. They allow users to check in to events and could allow the venue to push out news, alerts, prizes or promotions to visitors during events. We’ll have to wait and see how useful they are as the season progresses, but there is already some considerable adoption in arenas, so that’s a significant success already.

Recently, the UN announced a more unusual use for iBeacons: they are setting up a fascinating exhibit using iBeacons to simulate a minefield, allowing visitors to use an accompanying app to attempt safe navigation as if sweeping for mines. If you stray too close to a virtual mine, you explode (or at least, the app plays a loud explosion to inform you of your demise). It’s all part of an effort to raise awareness about landmines being really awful. It’s pretty neat, and showcases the iBeacon’s ability to precisely measure the user’s relative distance, which could be valuable for targeting promotions in stores, among other things.

Predictions for the future?

Other novel uses are lurking out there, ready to be adopted: taking attendance at schools, checking in to restaurants, navigating interior spaces—the technology is versatile enough that the conceivable applications are essentially endless. We’ll let the entrepreneurs and investors sort out what applications are actually useful, but I expect we’ll be seeing many more examples of iBeacons being successfully used in a variety of scenarios.

Could it be misused? Absolutely. As with any marketing tool which allows you send messages to consumers, there will be situations where those communications enter “spam” territory. Over-zealous marketers who don’t understand how annoying they are being could be very harmful to the success of iBeacons. But if those alerts are limited to users within the range of an iBeacon, then the location targeting should be precise enough that the potential promotions are relevant and interesting to the users (it’s far less annoying to get a Macy’s sale notification if you are already inside a Macy’s), so it has a leg up on other ad delivery methods.

Overall, iBeacons are introducing a new level of connectivity, creating versatile and convenient tools for businesses and consumers, and that’s definitely a recipe for success. In the grand scheme of things, I think we can view iBeacons as a successful example of merging our digital and physical worlds, making our mobile devices more contextual and responsive to what’s going on around us, which is at the core of a lot of emerging tech trends, like ambient intelligence and augmented reality. iBeacons represent a strong step in the right direction for connecting our digital devices to the world around us.

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