Apple’s new iBeacons feature for iOS 7 implements a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) profile for micro-location, enabling a series of new geofencing capabilities for app developers.
With iOS7, Apple introduced iBeacons, support for low-cost iBeacons transmitters that can connect an iPhone to a range of devices over Bluetooth 4.0. The device would let the iPhone activate doors, lights and other things as a person holding it moves by.
This can mean iOS device may be able to use BT 4.0 devices to collect precise location data, i.e., location inside of a building—even though those devices don’t have a GPS system installed.
Essentially, rather than using satellite signals to locate a device anywhere on Earth as GPS does, BLE can enable a mobile user to navigate and interact with specific regions geofenced by low cost signal emitters that can be placed anywhere, including indoors, and even on moving targets. Additionally, it appears iOS devices can also act as an iBeacon
What are the uses of iBeacons?
Micro-location indoor navigation
iOS 7’s iBeacons can be used by app developers to do things like build an interactive tour of a museum, where the user’s attention is directed to specific exhibits as they walk freely within the building.
In more general terms, the feature can also be used enable indoor navigation similar to GPS in settings such as an airport or underground subway station where GPS signals aren’t available, or specifically to enhance navigational accessibility for the blind or users with other impairments.
Location based marketing and Passbook tickets
This particular application makes iBeacons an extension of the geofencing Apple enabled in last year’s Passbook, which lets an installed pass, ticket or loyalty card popup on the lock screen when you cross the geofence threshold of a defined GPS location. Using BLE, a merchant or other provider can define more targeted “micro-locations” to trigger an alert, in some cases requiring that you be in the presence of an iBeacon in order to validate a Passbook entry .
You can “create ads that specifically pertain to your customers’ surroundings, thereby increasing the efficacy of those ads,” or simply supply additional details on product selection.
Spatially aware applications can make use of simple Bluetooth beacons to detect what surrounds them, and to contextualize user behavior. For example, a beacon placed in a movie theater doorway could allow an app to automatically mute a phone when a user entered, and un-mute it upon their departure. Another example – and one that is often more exciting to marketers – is a beacon placed in an in-store display that would trigger a custom coupon for loyal customers, delivered seamlessly to their Apple Passbooks.
Startups like NewAer are already exploring a lot of these possibilities, and Apple’s move to support these new standards will be a welcome sight for them. Spatial awareness is on the horizon, and it will be a huge opportunity for the first companies that figure out how to use it well.
Let us know what do you think about the iBeacons.