iOS 7’s flashy launch earlier this year overshadowed a breakthrough new feature: iBeacons, a location-based technology with profound implications for industries such as retail. An iBeacon system could allow a store to install transmitters that would wirelessly connect to an iPhone and tell the phone its location with respect to items on shelves. This iPhone could then perform additional functionality if it is equipped with a specialized application. According to multiple sources, Apple is planning to soon enable just that in its retail stores… Apple is said to have begun stocking up on iBeacon transmitters, and the company, in the next few days, will begin installing these sensors in many Apple Stores across the United States. These transmitters will be placed on the tables that house Apple products in addition to store shelves holding accessories. The technology will serve as a way to both improve the Apple shopping experience, and in-turn, boost product sales. The sources say that the technology will be used in tandem with an upcoming update to the Apple Store iPhone app. The service will allow a customer to walk up to a product and then receive a notification on their iPhone with additional information such as pricing and features.
While Apple has previously installed iPad-based “Smart Signs” that could provide additional detail about Apple’s MacBooks, iPods, and other devices, the app combined with iBeacons will serve as a “Smart Sign” of sort for accessories that hang on shelves. In the words of one developer familiar with the technology, “iBeacon seems like it was created with Apple Retail in mind.” Above is a mockup of how these alerts may look.
For Apple’s flagship devices, like Macs and iPads, the system could allow a customer to receive a notification about an upcoming workshop session related to the product. For example, if a user walks by an iPad, they could receive an alert on their iPhone notifying them about an upcoming workshop for iLife for iOS. Select Apple Stores will begin piloting the functionality in the coming weeks. Because the technology relies on the latest Apple software and hardware, users will need devices running iOS 7 that support Bluetooth 4.0. Users can choose not to receive these alerts.
Besides the aforementioned upcoming capabilities, sources say that Apple is testing other uses for iBeacons. The technology could be used for locating customers waiting for upcoming Genius Bar appointments, could be used for presenting advertisements or deals relative to nearby products, or even for purchasing products with enhanced security via the Apple Store application. These other uses will likely arrive farther into the future. Another feature in testing is the ability for a customer to be notified of a repair being ready to pickup if they are in or near the Apple Store. The Apple Store app is already capable of knowing if a customer is in an Apple Store, but the iBeacon geofence technology will greatly improve location accuracy.
In addition to the upcoming uses for Apple Stores, sources say that Apple is actively developing a new indoor mapping feature for a future version of iOS. This updated Maps application, which will also include public transportation information, could assist users in navigating through stores and buildings. It is possible that iBeacon transmitters could tie into this for providing information along navigated paths.
Major League Baseball has begun testing iBeacons in order to provide iPhone users with an enhanced experience at baseball stadiums. iBeacon can be integrated into apps by third-party App Store developers, but Apple is yet to fully support the development with a dedicated development program. According to one source, Apple is currently testing such a program for developers to easily write iBeacon-infused software.
Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook hosted a large meeting with Apple Store Leadership with the goal of heralding solutions to dramatically increase iPhone sales in Apple Stores. As part of that, a previous Apple Store iPhone app update shipped with the ability to provide customers with paid apps for free. This upcoming iBeacons service will likely further enhance the Apple Store shopping experience.