iBeacon: the Apple Bluetooth system that can track an iOS device such as an iPad or iPhone through a marketer’s app. For example, stores, stadiums, malls, and museum apps use the iBeacon technology so that the store can track a customer’s movements and send them information. What most users are not aware of is that thanks to iBeacon technology and that latest iOS7 upgrade, the device can be tracked even when the app is not running.
iBeacon uses small transmitters that marketers scatter throughout their facility so that they can locate a shopper through their retail app. Using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the devices transmit signals to communicate with each other. The micro-location technology allows the app to know exactly where a customer is in their store.
Once a customer is located, the retail app can send them messages (that look pretty much like ads) while they shop, providing helpful information on deals, flash sales, and product information. They can even speed up the checkout processing by supplying a contact-free payment system.
A customer might get an ad about a sale depending on what they are shopping in the store. For example, a customer looking at shoes might get a message about socks. Maybe cool, maybe creepy.
The problem for marketers has been that they could only use this technology if the customer had the app actively running while they shopped. However now, with the iOS7.1 upgrade, Apple made it possible to have all this happen just by having the app installed. It does not even have to be running. Now the phone’s operating system keeps listening for the iBeacon signal and tracks the customer even if the app is turned off and the device locked.
iBeacon is not particularly new. The two-part technology has been installed in businesses such as stores, malls, museums, and stadiums for some time. Apple has iBeacons in more than 250 stores.
There are a variety of ways that companies are using iBeacons. Since the technology can target a customer in a specific location, the app can send a welcome message to a person when they enter the store, notify them about special offers, or provide information about the facility. Some organizations using the app include Major League Baseball, Macy’s, and American Eagle Outfitters.
The CES trade show showcases consumer electronics and technology. They are using the app to get trade show attendees to visit some of the show’s less-popular areas by having them use the app to locate iBeacons to win prizes.
To opt out of this stealthy tracking process users have to change permissions under location services on their iPhone or iPad, to disable tracking for the particular app. They can also switch off Bluetooth, or completely uninstall the app.
Companies need to be careful not to make their apps so annoying with constants alerts and reminders that users delete it. Since most users not aware of this change that allows iBeacon to track them even when their shopping app is turned off, getting messages from the store may be a big surprise.
By Beth A. Balen