On July 4th of this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made filings public from Apple regarding an Apple-branded piece of iBeacon equipment. The hardware is shown above to be a rounded hub-like device with a USB port and a dedicate on and off switch at the bottom…
iPad Air 2
The documents for the standard FCC testing of wireless devices indicates that the product is designed to work within Apple’s iBeacon ecosystem, and the documents brand the device as an “Apple iBeacon.” The existence of the FCC filings was first noted via Twitter yesterday by wireless router company Securifi.
The documents also provide some technical information about the hardware. It is powered by a 5 volt power supply and it works on a 2.4GHz wireless frequency. The device was tested by the FCC in several environments, including in semi-anechoic and fully-anechoic chambers, the device unsurprisingly passed each of the government agency’s tests.
iBeacon is an Apple technology first introduced at WWDC 2013 alongside iOS 7. iBeacons allow developers to create iOS applications that can use iBeacon hardware sensors to provide precise location information for the corresponding app. For example, Apple uses iBeacons in its retail stores to provide information about nearby products, services, and upcoming classes. Major retail chains like Walmart and Walgreens are also testing the technology. At WWDC 2014 with the announcement of iOS 8, Apple announced improvements to the iBeacon technology that can allow applications to track the precise floor that a user is on in a large building, for example.
Many years ago, upcoming Apple products often appeared on the FCC’s website early, but such leaks have been sparse in recent years. That makes this iBeacon hardware’s appearance all the more interesting. There are three likely possibilities for the answer behind why Apple is testing iBeacon hardware with the FCC. First, it is possible that Apple designed its own iBeacon hub to replace the third-party beacons that it uses at its retail stores. Apple is known for wanting to design every component of its stores, so it would not be surprising for Apple to go to the drawing board for a single piece of its store experience.
Another possibility is that Apple is gearing up to release its own iBeacon hardware for sale to developers and retail stores that would like to use iBeacon technology. Currently, there is no centralized place or way to pick and buy iBeacon sensors. While the market is niche, Apple would likely be able to give the potential of iBeacon technology an incredible boost with the sale of its own iBeacon hardware. Apple has a developer website dedicated to both iBeacon software and hardware, so perhaps Apple would sell the hubs through that website or its other Made for iPhone (MFI) channels.
The third possibility is that the device in the FCC filings represents Apple’s first upcoming HomeKit device. Sources told us last month that Apple is actively developing smart hardware for the home that integrates with Apple’s upcoming HomeKit technology. HomeKit allows iOS devices like the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch to connect to home appliances such as thermostats, garage doors, and locks. iBeacon sensors could help Apple customers better use HomeKit as the sensors will be able to provide more precise tracking of a user’s location within a home.
The entire PDF of the FCC’s tests, for those interested in intricate charts and graphs, is embedded below: