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12/6/2013
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Attention Apple Shoppers: iBeacon Is Watching

Bluetooth transmitters will monitor shoppers' in-store movement and make recommendations based on location.

10 Best Tablets Of 2013
10 Best Tablets Of 2013
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One of the many features Apple added to iOS 7 is called iBeacon. It relies on Bluetooth transmitters to pinpoint location data more accurately than GPS, which suffers when smartphone users are indoors. Until now, iBeacon has remained dormant. Apple plans to enable the feature within the Apple Store mobile application as well as inside its own retail stores so it can track shoppers and offer them information along the way. Here's how it works.

In order to interact with Apple's in-store iBeacon system, iPhone owners need to download and install the latest version of the Apple Store application. The Bluetooth radio on their device must be on, and they'll need to allow Apple to track their whereabouts through iBeacon. Apple is expected to turn iBeacon on in its 254 US stores sometime Friday, according to the Associated Press. With everything turned on, shoppers are in for a treat -- or an annoyance, depending on your point of view.

Apple demonstrated the technology to AP, which said iBeacon allows Apple stores to send shoppers messages about products, events, and other information that is specific to the user's location. The Apple Store app enters an "in-store" mode once it senses the iBeacon in a particular location. The iBeacon is sensitive enough to tell when a shopper is wandering past a table full of iPads or standing next to the iPhone accessories inside an Apple Store. Further, stores can use iBeacon to let shoppers know that their purchases are available for pickup or where the checkout counter is inside the store.

Apple's Fifth Avenue Store.
Apple's Fifth Avenue Store.


The Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City has 20 iBeacon transmitters. Their sensitivity can be fine-tuned to reach everyone in the store, as well as discern shoppers' exact location to within a few feet. The Fifth Avenue store is quite large, and iBeacon messages might be helpful in such a large space. For some of the smaller Apple Stores, however, receiving messages about the location of the checkout desk, when it is plainly visible from the door, could be irritating. It will be up to each individual store to create its own messages and alerts, and hopefully the stores will be smart about it.

[Have you been in an Apple Store lately? See Apple iPads Beat Early Holiday Expectations.]

Apple says it does not collect data about individual shoppers as they move throughout the store, but iBeacon can enable apps to gather those details. Apple says iBeacon gives apps "a whole new level of micro-location awareness, such as trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum, or product displays in stores." iBeacon is accessible to app developers that can add it to their own applications. Even then, users will need to agree to be tracked and to provide personal information.

Whether or not individual details are collected, the in-store tracking surely will not sit well with some shoppers. The good news is that it is all opt-in, meaning iPhone owners have control over their location data inside Apple Stores.

What do you think? Is iBeacon the future of mobile shopping, or just another ploy to tempt shoppers with goods they may not need?

Consumerization 1.0 was "We don't need IT." Today we need IT to bridge the gap between consumer and business tech. Also in the Consumerization 2.0 issue of InformationWeek: Stop worrying about the role of the CIO. (Free registration required.)

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 12:34:10 PM
Annoying
This would be more annoying than useful for me, but I can see better applications down the road: coupons for shoppers based on kiosks or stores they're near, exclusive deals, that sort of thing.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 3:24:06 PM
Apple only?
Is this only a "feature" in iOS, or do Android and Windows Phone devices have something similar in the offing?
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2013 | 7:01:08 PM
Re: Annoying
The fewer notifications the better. And finding things in the store is not an issue. One can always ask the iEmployees. My ideal Apple Store experience is to arrive, buy, and leave as fast as possible.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 3:15:53 AM
Re: Apple only?
I don't know that Android or Windows Phone has a specific technology that's really equivalent, but Cisco is a big proponent of this kind of tech. Cisco was involved with an app, for example, that's used for location-based services across a number of Vegas casinos. It relies on Wi-Fi networks and is available for both iOS and Android. Cisco showed it off last year at Interop and has also had its hand in a locaiton-based app for a museum in Atlanta, among a few others.

As for this, Apple is better than most companies at moving its user base to new tech. They've had some notable misses, but it looks like iBeacon could accelerate this sort of technology.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 3:20:53 AM
Big Data for Retail
"The iBeacon is sensitive enough to tell when a shopper is wandering past a table full of iPads or standing next to the iPhone accessories inside an Apple Store."

This is interesting. Apple stores display products very cleanly and effectively-- but a lot of others stores are cluttered jungles of messy stands, awkwardly-placed kiosks, garish signage, and clogged traffic paths. Technologies like iBeacon mean there will eventually be no excuse for this sort of poor retail space feng shui. Businesses will know which displays customers linger near, and which ones they pass without a second thought. It will let them know when people get clustered together, when storefront ads attract passersby, and so on. Lots of stuff that could be optimized, especially during busy periods such as the holiday shopping rush. 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2013 | 9:14:14 AM
Re: Big Data for Retail
@Michael yes, to get the most out of the technology, stores will have to have their products neatly arranged and defnitively separated. However, sometimes putting things together is intentional, as the intent is that seeing a complementary product near the one the customer first gravitated toward may get him/her to add it on -- rather like the way Amazon puts up "People who bought __ also bought __"
Dusanwriter
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Dusanwriter,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/9/2013 | 12:37:56 PM
Re: Apple only?
The great thing about Bluetooth LE is that it isn't an Apple-only technology. Most phones dating back a few years have it - Android included. The challenge is that the phone needs to have KitKat installed for the "beacon" potential to be unlocked - but yes, it's cross-platform.
Dusanwriter
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Dusanwriter,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/9/2013 | 12:41:08 PM
"Tracking?"
You guys have done what a lot of the media seems to have picked up: written a headline that's at odds with the article.

You did a great job describing that the 'tracking' is entirely permission based. You need an app, you need location services to be on, you need Bluetooth to be on....and even then, the beacons themselves don't do the tracking.

The headline is misleading as iBeacon technology keeps the power in the user's hands.

http://beekn.net/2013/12/does-bluetooth-le-track-shoppers-no-but-your-app-does/
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