Apple highlighted a lot of features when it introduced iOS 7 in June, but a feature that it didn’t talk about much was iBeacons, a special Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) profile that enables “micro-location” and ranging, which can spawn a whole new category of apps that display extremely accurate information based on your indoor position.
While cellular triangulation and GPS are great methods to find your device’s location when the scale is large, these technologies become quite error prone indoors. iBeacons is a feature that lets your phone get a precise location of where it is, using Bluetooth signals while consuming very less energy. Devices with Bluetooth 4 will now be able to sense as well as broadcast their location and proximity information to other devices.
A network of iBeacons will open up interesting possibilities for users, developers, retailers and other commercial entities. Apple’s Passbook app, which already has location based alerts, will greatly benefit from the precise location reporting, ensuring that alerts aren’t wrongly triggered. Moreover, the interaction between iBeacon devices is much better than NFC, where users are required to make physical contact between two devices to initiate communication.
Accurate indoor location seems to be a key area of interest for Apple, if its recent acquisitions are taken as an indication. The company acquired WiFiSLAM that developed technology to detect indoor location using WiFi signals, as well as a string of other location based startups, though some of them are to make up for the lack of data in Apple’s maps.
Another possible feature, as noted by AppleInsider:
Acting as iBeacon, a user with an iOS 7 device in hand could trigger events around them, allowing them to, for example, turn on lights and unlock and open doors simply by signalling the user’s proximity to devices listening for it via BLE.
So if you’re in a museum, an iOS app can show you information about the artefact or exhibit you’re closest to, since it’s very likely that you’ll be interested seeing such information.
With rumors of an Apple smartwatch and a full-fledged TV coming soon, Apple has a lot dependant on Bluetooth, and iBeacons and AirDrop seem like steps in the right direction. Of course, the success of this depends on other accessory companies embracing iBeacons as well, but Apple’s momentum on most occasions is enough to convince other players to hop on to a new technology.