From social media “check-ins” to push notifications, our personal devices are becoming increasingly adept at pinpointing our exact location and beaming information to our smartphone or tablet. And now, Apple has taken the technology to the next level with iBeacon.
iBeacon works by using Bluetooth proximity sensing to transmit a specific and unique identifier, which, when picked up by a compatible app or operating system such as iOS or Android, can be turned into a physical location or trigger a specific action on said device.
Apple initiated the iBeacon in early December, rolling it out in more than 250 of its stores. And interestingly, the iBeacon is more than just a physical device in of itself (currently it takes the form of a small coin or USB stick): nearly 200 million iPhones and iPads are already capable of being iBeacons in that they have the proper hardware and are running iOS 7.
So what are the practical applications of iBeacon for the end user? Consider that you’re shopping in a mega-warehouse store. iBeacon can beam information to you regarding sales on items you’ve previously purchased or help you locate the physical location of small item swallowed within enormous shelves of merchandise. Another possible—and probable—use will be point-of-sale transactions; you won’t need to ever remove your wallet from your purse or pocket, as the sale will be automatically completed. And as for in-home applications, iBeacon will integrate with the latest “smart home” systems, conveniently unlocking the door for you when you arrive and turning on lights and media and security systems.
Apple estimates that, by mid-2014, there will be 250 million iBeacon units active in the U.S. alone, a fact seen as a considerable head start over its competitors. However, Microsoft and other major players are already hard at work playing catchup, including Qualcomm which recently unveiled its Gimbal proximity devices that currently support iOS 7 and, very soon, Android operating systems.