Way back in July, Apple registered FCC certification for a new piece of iBeacon Bluetooth hardware. Naturally, 9to5Mac covered the release of wireless certification documents for the hardware. It was unclear by those filings the nature of the product, whether it was targeted at use in Apple Stores, some form of developer testing equipment or something else entirely. The product was never made publicly available for purchase, for unknown reasons.
However, time has elapsed such that the rest of Apple’s submitted documents are now available to the public. Vitally, this includes a user manual which immediately signals that this iBeacon hardware was meant for developers, presumably to test iBeacon integration in their own apps. It’s unclear, though, if this is meant to be used ‘in the wild’. Read on for an exposition on the workings of this mysterious device.
The Apple iBeacon mounts to a wall with a standard screw. There is an LED on the underside of the unit, which reports battery condition and general status. Although there is no mention of battery life, it probably lasts several months (Bluetooth Low Energy doesn’t drain much power) and can be recharged via micro-USB.
A switch on the side device allows it to be reprogrammed, so it can be configured as necessary. The document mentions an accompanying Apple iBeacon app, which seemingly can be used to control the device, although there are no images of what the app looks like. The rest of the document, which can be found on the FCC website, covers boilerplate warnings about safety and cleaning. Unsurprisingly, pricing details are not mentioned.
Maybe the Apple iBeacon will see the light of day eventually … For now, a whole range of third-party products have popped up to fill the gap, from vendors such as Estimote. The current state of beacons is very fragmented, with different iBeacon makers offering productions with varying advantages and downsides. Official Apple reference hardware could help this situation for app developers to create a more consistent experience.
Apple has been pushing iBeacons on many fronts, including indoor mapping. Beacons are used alongside other location technologies to pinpoint the user’s location in places where GPS can’t reach, like shopping malls. Beacons can also be used to automatically trigger the display of built-in maps, removing the need for iOS users to manually switch navigation modes.