The new iPhone 5s and 5c are practically all anyone is talking about right now. Comedians are making fun of them. Tech writers are trying to make sense of new technologies. We are all wondering whether we should upgrade our old phones. But what about iOS 7? The new iPhone may be the biggest news since last year, but iOS 7 is the biggest news since 2007. We are about to get blown away by so much new software that we won’t even know what hit us.
One new bit of technology that will be available when iOS 7 hits is iBeacon. Do you remember when Apple demonstrated the new mobile operating system at the Worldwide Developer Conference in June of this year? Well, one unmentioned new feature was iBeacon. Until today, no one really knew what it was. No one was really asking, either. Gigaom just posted an in-depth article on what iBeacon is and what it will do for retailers, shoppers, and near-field communication technology.
According to Gigaom, iBeacon is a wireless information transmitter that uses a small sensor in a physical space in connection with your iOS device using Bluetooth 4.0. iBeacon alerts the app related to the space you’ve just entered. Depending on what companies want to use the technology for, you could potentially receive store coupons, directions to a particular department, or even personalized recommendations based on your previous purchasing history. “Smartphones that are in an iBeacon zone will benefit from personalized microlocation-based notification and actions.”
Imagine walking through the mall, past the Apple retail store and getting an alert that you can get 20 percent off of any iPad case. Then, you find the product you want and use the Apple Store app to check yourself out. Talk about a convenient shopping experience.
Gigaom claims that iBeacon could potentially be the technology that replaces near-field communication (NFC). The NFC technology only works in very close proximity, less than eight inches with an optimal range of less than two inches. The iBeacon technology may be more expensive at the onset, but will ultimately save businesses money because you won’t need to buy a chip for every eight inches of space surrounding your store entrance. The iBeacon technology has a range of up to 50 meters.
Thanks to iBeacon, indoor navigation is a possibility. While companies are able to develop maps for malls, airports, and other large complexes, it is not possible to implement indoor navigation due to line of sight issues. With iBeacon, users could potentially get hard coded GPS location to navigate, or even use the signals to move closer to the device. iBeacon supports “enter” and “exit” locations so you can be alerted when you are moving from one area to the next.
While current device makers (other than Apple) have been touting NFC as the next big thing, the biggest mobile operating system provider, Android, now supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which is the technology that iBeacon uses to transmit information to your iOS device. That is not to say that Google won’t continue to try to convince consumers that NFC is better than iBeacon. But, the company is definitely prepared to make the switch if it comes down to it.
Basically, as Gigaom pointed out, BLE has solved the microlocation data problems in a way that NFC can’t duplicate and Apple has found a way to wirelessly transmit data over short distances using BLE. “No need to wander around the room, bumping your phone.”