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By now we’ve mostly gotten used to Apple picking a word, sticking the letter “i” on it, and revolutionizing the way we look at technology. Witness, for example, iPods, iTunes, iPhones, iPads, and the iCloud.
Next up on the list might just be iBeacon, a low-powered Bluetooth transponder that can interact with iOS 7 devices in its range. It’s a little like GPS, but more fine-tuned. GPS can get you to the mall; iBeacon can follow you around the mall.
So how will it be used? Well, we’re still in early days, but there has been no shortage of ideas bandied about:

  • Hyper-targeted ads and discounts: earlier this month Apple began using the technology in it stores to send customers personalized messages and offers, depending on where they are in the store.  “Walking by an iPhone table? You may get a message asking if you want to upgrade, check your upgrade availability and see if you can get money for trading in your old phone,” the Associated Press notes.
  • Better ballgames: Major League Baseball has already announced its intention of deploying iBeacons in some of its stadiums. Fans will be able to download an app that can pull up ticket bar codes on their phones as they approach the entrance gates, then offer up a map guiding them to their seats. The app might also offer up videos with historical information about the stadium as visitors wander by important landmarks.
  • Shopping list navigation: No more wandering sprawling department stores to find the one little doohickey you need. iBeacon can turn your shopping list into in-store turn-by-turn navigation to help you find what you accomplish your shopping with ease.
  • Mobile payments: It is just a matter of time before apps allowing shoppers to authorize and send payments from their phones start cropping up in more places. In fact PayPal has already announced a wireless payment system using the same technology as iBeacon.

OK, so how does it do all this? The system uses Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE technology. BLE lets our phones talk to beacon hardware installed throughout stores or museums or wherever, and it also lets enabled phones talk to each other.
Though the iBeacon was quietly rolled out with the introduction of iOS7 earlier this year, Apple has been laying the groundwork for quite some time. If you have an iPhone 4S or later, you already have the capacity to interact with the system. iPod Touches made from 2012 on and iPads third-generation or later are also equipped for iBeacon usage. Google has started incorporating BLE capability in newer Android phones as well. There is, in short, a veritable army of sleeper devices out there ready to jump into iBeacon action.
Imagination and innovation may be the only limits to how the iBeacon system might change retail (and beyond). What would you like to do with this technology?

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