The Future of iBeacons: 5 Companies to Watch

iBeacons: The future is coming but from where?
iBeacons: The future is coming but from where?

If you want to see the future of iBeacons, don’t just look to retailers for the answer.

Apple’s launch of iBeacons finally gives us a wireless tech that works across platforms and addresses the limitations of NFC and GPS. But the early focus seems to be on retail, with Business Week proclaiming that iBeacon is Apple’s way to transform retail (a myth, but a handy one) and Forbes jumping on the bandwagon.

But if I was going to boldly predict where the truly transformative breakthroughs will come from when it comes to consumer-facing iBeacon and Bluetooth LE technology, it isn’t Macy’s or retail brands where I’d be looking.

Here’s my list of 5 companies to watch if you want to keep a pulse on the future.

My bold prediction for Square is that one day it will make Facebook and Twitter look like hobby businesses. Square is poised to become as big as the banks, and to reinvent the financial industry.

Under the leadership of Jack Dorsey, Square is putting in place all the pieces to not just transform retail point-of-sale but the way we handle money.

Square has mastered the phone-to-register payment experience, and it understands that consumers don’t just associate ‘buying’ with physical space. Its tablet and phone-based registers already have built in Bluetooth LE support to become beacons, consumers are adopting their app/wallet and they have the user experience nailed.

Now all they need to do now is launch a little device to retailers that they can put on a shelf or near the entrance to the store. I’d expect a Square LE device coming soon.

Next to Square, PayPal can look a little old hat. But PayPal has been a leader in Bluetooth LE before it was, well, kinda trendy.

They’ve been shaking off the shackles of poorly executed developer programs and incubating a start-up culture. PayPal launched Beacon this fall and was ahead of the curve on the Apple announcements.

(Although – undercutting my argument a bit, the link to the beacon page on their site gives a 404 not found error.)

If PayPal can dust itself off and get some of its mojo back with developers, it has the network and the resources to go long with iBeacons. Its appeal is less focused on the contained/closed user experience of a Square and more on giving tools to start-ups, big brands and app developers. Getting the attention and energy of the developer audience will be critical to PayPal’s future in a world of beacons.

Look to design thinking for the big breakthroughs. And to my mind, no one does it better than Frog and IDEO.

It’s not exactly the beacon I had in mind, but Frog has turned pay phones into beacons. And is arguing that computer sight is the next frontier on the Internet of Things.

Meanwhile, I love IDEO just because. Grab a copy of their latest book and be inspired. It’s this kind of thinking that will unleash the imaginative power of the Internet of Things.

OK, so it’s not exactly a company. But when I first started working on the Internet of Things I was dreaming about local currencies and being able to walk around your neighborhood without the bank taking a slice of every transaction: a buck to take your money out, a slice of every retail transaction, and then paying money for them to KEEP your money.

The entire banking industry is ripe for disruption. Square will get us part of the way there, but Bitcoin (especially when connected to iBeacons and IoT) might just prompt a revolution.

It’s a total long shot. And if they can’t get their production issues solved they’ll have a hard time getting a second chance with some of the early adopters.

But Estimote has a certain quality which, if connected to a truly visionary strategy of software and services, could be a game changer. (If they don’t get bought out by Square first).

Who would you add to the list? I’d love to hear – drop me a line (doug at or message me on Twitter.

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