Apple and Bluetooth Beacons: The Future Has Landed

The Mothership Has Arrived
The Mothership Has Arrived

Apple will deploy iBeacons in its stores, using the Bluetooth low-energy devices to activate content on your phone. But the deployment isn’t just a case of Apple eating its own, um, apple sauce – it might also be the launch pad for Apple to take over the retail world outside its shiny glass and marble walls.

Bluetooth LE has been called the “NFC Killer” – a more effective way to handle the ‘last mile’ between phone and transaction because it doesn’t require the user to be really really close to make stuff work.

By transmitting very small packets of data, a Bluetooth LE beacon can wake up your phone and deliver contextual information based on proximity.

Apple Showrooms
9to5 envisions Apple stores being the ultimate showrooms for the technology:

For Appleā€™s flagship devices, like Macs and iPads, the system could allow a customer to receive a notification about an upcoming workshop session related to the product. For example, if a user walks by an iPad, they could receive an alert on their iPhone notifying them about an upcoming workshop for iLife for iOS. Select Apple Stores will begin piloting the functionality in the coming weeks. Because the technology relies on the latest Apple software and hardware, users will need devices running iOS 7 that support Bluetooth 4.0. Users can choose not to receive these alerts.

Besides the aforementioned upcoming capabilities, sources say that Apple is testing other uses for iBeacons. The technology could be used for locating customers waiting for upcoming Genius Bar appointments, could be used for presenting advertisements or deals relative to nearby products, or even for purchasing products with enhanced security via the Apple Store application. These other uses will likely arrive farther into the future. Another feature in testing is the ability for a customer to be notified of a repair being ready to pickup if they are in or near the Apple Store. The Apple Store app is already capable of knowing if a customer is in an Apple Store, but the iBeacon geofence technology will greatly improve location accuracy.

Beyond the Store
But it isn’t just retail where Bluetooth LE plays a role. Coupled with the powerful M7 motion processor on new iPhones, Bluetooth LE will power watches, wrist bands, what your child gets distracted with while you shop, and how you find your lost pet or keys.

But the power, I think, will really come to life when we start seeing applications that recognize that we are all beacons on this new Internet of Connected Everything: your phone doesn’t just find ‘beacons’ in the environment around you, it’s a beacon itself.

I can’t help wondering what happens when two beacons start talking to each other – best demonstrated, perhaps, in Apple AirDrop technology: a secure connection between multiple devices based on location that allows greater precision and responsiveness because they can trade data.

You connect to beacons, you are a beacon – your phone can be a photo sharing tool, a TV remote control, a heart rate monitor or a system for creating richer concert-going experiences.

What could possibly be next? (Hint: Jack Dorsey knows).

A Platform for World Domination
The last link is missing. PayPal is trying. Square understand UX, the value of fingerprints and the joy of an amazing user experience.

And then there’s Apple. Which has 600 million credit cards on file. Many of them connected to their user’s phones.

Because the last mile isn’t whether you can book an appointment at the Genius Bar.

The last mile is whether you can pay for your new iPhone or iTV or iEverything without needing to shift your experience from viewing a digital demo of a product to actually paying for it and then just walking out.

(Yeah – see that little tag on the thing you’re buying? It’s Bluetooth LE too – and the store knows that the product you’re walking out with is the one you paid for).

The deployment of iBeacons in Apple stores might be more than just increasing sales. It might be the ultimate testing and demo platform for a world in which Apple doesn’t just connect you to the world, but becomes the way you pay for it too.

(Now, let’s just wait and see what kind of stuff they put in at the new Apple HQ right?)

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