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Apple’s light tower leading towards the future!
Lately Apple had come under quite a bit of criticism for not continuing to “innovate” and their iterations of iPhones were written off by tech reviewers and bloggers are “minor upgrades”. However, with the iPhone 5s introducing the first mainstream deployment of fingerprint recognition and iBeacon (with iOS 7), those arguments are no longer valid. iBeacon is the next big thing on Apple’s magic list.
iBeacon is low-powered, low-cost and low-proximity devices that emit a Low-Energy Bluetooth (L.E.B.) signal which can be received by smartphones. The technology is not limited to iOS and will be available for the Android operating system as well. This opens up a whole new world of opportunities. Multiple beacons can create a region around a premises, and when your device enters that region you can receive notifications, alerts and all sorts of customized data. iBeacon is wireless sensor placed in any physical space that transmit data to your phone.
For example, you walk into a store, let’s say Marks & Spencer, with your iPhone equipped with iOS 7 and the Marks & Spencer app. As you approach the Marks & Spencer store’s premises, the store can transmit information like discount coupons and walking direction to a particular item’s location in the store. It can also send personalized notifications regarding special offers and new arrivals based on your previous experiences with the M & S store. An almost certain next step in utilizing this technology will allow you to pay for your purchases through your phone via iBeacon, without ever needing your wallet.
With such powerful features and reach, iBeacon can be a potential source of spamming. Imagine the walk in a mall, with every other store using iBeacon and transmitting discount offers, coupons and other promotional notifications and your smartphone is continuously bombarded with push notifications and alerts. It sounds very annoying, right? The best guess is that Apple might use an app like Passbook which will enable you to receive notifications from a list of your favorite brands.
If you have seen the TV commercial of the Cisco StyleMe virtual fashion mirror, it may be easy for you to understand what else can be achieved through iBeacon. A dress store equipped with iBeacon will be able to read your device’s presence (your iPhone) in front of a particular dress. The store may trigger a notification inviting you to use a “StyleMe” type device to see how that particular dress may look on you.
Eventually, the system which provides you different promotional offers and guide you through a store, can also be used to make payments for the purchases.
NFC is short range communication technology working on RFID technology. The technology is currently used in parking meters, train tickets and movie tickets to name just a few. iBeacon is different in a few ways, the biggest and foremost being the range. iBeacon does not need to put devices in close range to carry out tasks. It can be effective from as far as 50-150 feet away. This feature will enhance contactless payment in stores and malls. You receive a request of payment, you use your fingerprint or PIN to authorize payment through one of your cards and receive an electronic receipt of the transaction.
iBeacon will be a tough competitor for NFC as the battle of e-wallets heats up. The tags used by NFC are pretty cheap as compared to NFC chips, however NFC tags are needed for each product because the NFC’s range is very short, which is up to 20cm. Also the mobile devices need to have an NFC chip to carry out any NFC communications. On the other hand, iBeacon while a bit more expensive, can be used on almost all mobile devices that have Bluetooth capability.
Apple has been a revolutionary company, they see and do things differently. We have seen it in the past with first touch screen phone and new types of sensors (Gyro). iBeacon is a promising step towards a very important and lucrative industry and coupled with fingerprint technology for privacy and security, it is exciting to see how this new technology will shape the way custom apps enhance our daily experiences. One thing is for certain, it is brimming with potential.