Apple recently rolled out iBeacon technology in its retail stores in several US cities, which, in conjunction with the Apple Store app, lets customers get location-based alerts about workshops, genius appointments, product deals etc.
Apple is using as many as 20 iBeacon transmitters in each store, but some of these transmitters are simply iPhones as iPads running iOS 7, which lets these device act as both iBeacon transmitters and receivers.
TechCrunch notes that the iPad’s ability to be configured as an iBeacon gives the tablet a huge edge over Android and Windows competitors in retail stores. The iPad is already quite popular in retail stores as a point-of-sale system, in restaurants as the menu card, and in many other businesses simply as a “dumb” display or an entertainment system.
By rolling out iBeacon technology in its retail stores, Apple wants other retail stores and businesses to see it as an example, and setup iBeacon in their stores as well, utilising the iPads they already have deployed.
Estimates point to nearly 250 million iOS devices being capable of acting as iBeacons by the end of the holiday season. From TechCrunch:
Apple’s current implementation of the Apple Store app sketches out the way that most of these experiences will be enabled. Whether the retailer you’re visiting is using a third-party iBeacon or an iPad configured as an iBeacon, you’ll have to have an app from the company on your device. When you installed that app (say the Walmart shopping app) you would have been required to allow it access to your location. So this will be an ‘opt in’ system of sorts.
Once the app is installed and iBeacons are configured, retailers will be able to push ‘micro-location’-based alerts to shoppers about deals or particular sections of the store. The beacons do this by using ‘ranging’ based on Bluetooth signal strength to determine very accurately — within a couple of feet at times — your physical location. These behaviors are impossible with GPS, which isn’t so hot indoors and whose accuracy has a much larger dead zone.
Apple’s obviously had a head start in the “micro-location” race in retail, but the company has a long way to go, with TechCrunch suggesting that the current implementation of the iBeacon system in Apple Stores is “very limited in comparison to the company’s eventual plans.”
MLB is already using iBeacons to create interactive experiences for fans in stadiums. Macy’s has also partnered with Shopkick to launch iBeacon pilot program in select flagship stores. And more and more retailers will start implementing this technology once they realise its potential, and the relative ease with which it can be deployed without purchasing additional hardware.
Let us know if you’ve recently visited an Apple Store, and if so, how was your experience with the recently launched iBeacon technology.