The next big thing in mobile connectedness: Beacons

Estimote Beacon

Photo via Estimote

If you remember the film Minority Report, you likely recall the scene where Tom Cruise walks through a mall and has personalized advertising shown to him based on his identity (drawn from a wall-mounted camera that scans retinas). You can check out the scene in the video below:

When the movie was released in 2002, it seemed like this type of personalized advertising was a long way off – after all, the movie was set in 2054. Now, as crazy as it might seem, the technology already exists, and you might even have it in your pocket at this moment.

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Amidst the hype around the new software design and handsets, most people ignored another feature of Apple‘s iOS 7 which is arguably the biggest game-changer in the way your iPhone can be used: the iBeacon.

iBeaconAccording to Apple, iBeacon is…

a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 devices of their presence, provides apps a whole new level of location awareness, such as trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum, or product displays in stores. Other new features include the ability to setup and configure Wi-Fi accessories, such as AirPlay speakers, directly from iOS. And iOS 7 works with more Bluetooth LE profiles, including time, notifications, keyboards, and stereo sound.

But the technology isn’t limited to Apple devices. Based on Bluetooth LE (low-energy), most modern smartphones are equipped to communicate with ‘beacons’.

With the activation of a beacon in a retail setting, you may not have your name being called out by a Guinness poster like in the clip above, but you could receive a notification on your phone from one of your favourite local stores, offering you a discount on your next purchase for being a loyal customer when you’re nearby.

Taking the concept even further, once you enter the store, you could be presented with an interactive map of the store’s layout that guides you to the product you’re interested in, all without using GPS.

This is the type of functionality that attracted Major League Baseball (MLB) to adopt iBeacon technology for use in their stadiums beginning next season, which promises to ‘create interactive stadium experiences‘. According to those who viewed a demo of the MLB iBeacon app, the use of iBeacons:

  • Displays your digital ticket when you approach the entrance
  • Shows you a map to your seat based on your location
  • Highlights points of interest, or shows coupons and loyalty cards for in-park vendors

From a retail perspective, the possibilities for this technology are nearly endless. The combination of beacons and smartphones allow marketers to get directly in front of their audiences with relevant information and tailored messages. According to TechnoBuffalo, Starbucks, Macy’s and American Airlines are all working on iBeacon-compatible apps.

But outside of retail, there are still numerous other possibilities. When is the last time you were looking for an office in a large building with no sense of direction to get to your destination? Beacons would solve that. If you were in a museum looking at a particular piece of art and wanted to find out more about it, a beacon could prompt you with more information based on your location.

And to make the technology a true Near-Field Communication (NFC) killer, PayPal is reportedly developing an app that would allow payments to be made securely from your smartphone to a beacon.

The possibilities of what you can accomplish in the mobile future continue to expand…

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