Apple’s new iPhone update iOS 7.1 takes proximity technology to the next level, allowing iBeacon to detect and send signals even when the app is closed or the phone is rebooted, thus increasing the phones accessibility to marketing. This powerful improvement may advance Apple’s bid to power and penetration into retail’s wireless infrastructure and the world of e-commerce.
Retailers employ beacon technology in their stores to transmit ads, coupons, and any other information on products or services, to a customer’s iPhone when they come within a certain distance of a product. For example, a shopper wheeling their cart down a grocery store aisle may be alerted, by a phone ad, to a special sale on chocolate chip cookies. Then, down the next aisle, another phone alert appears, this time for breakfast cereal. The new iPhone update may impart new meaning to “attention smart shoppers”.
Beacons are simply Bluetooth LE powered devices that receive and send signals to each other over short distances. These signals provide information on the proximity of beacons. Any device with Bluetooth technology is a beacon, including an iPhone. So this technology can not only alert a customer to sale items, but can also let them know the cookies can be found, say, only a few feet away, on the right.
The new iPhone update allows iBeacon signals to be sent and received even when the application is completely closed and not running in the background. Even after the phone reboots, the user does not need to reopen the iBeacon app. The shopper will still receive notifications, even on the locked display window. Still, anyone can choose to opt out of these notifications by simply turning off the Bluetooth function.
The ability of iBeacon to continue is operation regardless of whether the app remains open or closed means that prospective software developers are more likely to commit to writing creative new applications within that technology. They can rest assured, knowing that their programs will be running virtually all the time without having to rely on smart phone users keeping their apps open. This would be just one more thrust toward elevating the iPhone to the status of a tool that makes shopping effortless and secure.
Apple’s TouchID already provides a secure pass-key, one’s own fingerprint, for unlocking the phone. This same technology can conceivably be used to make secure payments, in real-time, on location, perhaps without even a need for checking out through traditional cashier’s line. Already, many grocery and big box stores offer automated checkout, where the customer scans their own items and pays by debit card. Is it really such a big step to condense all of this into a hand-held device which is quickly replacing many of the functions of the personal computer?
It may take time for some consumers to adjust to the new iPhone update, perhaps considering it an invasion of privacy that iBeacon signals remain active even when the app is closed. Others may delight in not missing a good deal.
By Robert Wisnewski