iBeacon Puts Displays at Retail Nexus

Mobile – In our last instalment on Apple Hybrid iBeacon and NFC (Near Field Communications) we said the company is once again demonstrating a canny sense of identifying Gateway Technologies that can empower (and further enrich) its army of code developers who in turn empower us with the unintended consequences of amazing creativity – all over again”. 

At its heart is not NFC but,you guessed it, Smart Bluetooth, (or low energy Bluetooth) that Apple calls its “iBeacon” technology, augmented with NFC to touch the install base of retail pay point systems. With it, Apple is targeting some very specific technology initiatives that are ready to explode into the mainstream–and go well beyond simple digital pay transactions, now obsessed over in the mainstream media.

For Apple’s iBeacon is looking to reach right down into the customers’ own preferences and yes, even personality, (you can know a lot about a person by what kind of music they like) to extract just the exact messaging that makes the (now virtual) cash register (with new NFC phones and other devices) ring.  It’s an idea whose time has come, and like the music industry turned on its ear by Steve Jobs with iPods, all the pieces of its iBeacon strategy are in place for an Apple ecosystem revolution. With the potential to chart a new course toward retail nirvana, bringing both developers and infrastructure providers along for the ride.

We showed last time how the company’s hybrid approach to wireless is part of a long term strategy that empowers not only its core mobile wireless content sharing (AirDrop) but with the next Mac OS upgrade of Yosemite, will include new fixed PC initiatives like Continuity and Hand-off that make desktop content transparent in the mobile domain. All well and good for end users, and thank you very much Apple for finally delivering Air Drop that works on both iOS and Mac OS platforms.

But Apple’s plans are much more grand as it is to move Smart Bluetooth straight into retail America – and they are not alone. As early as 2013 a company called Estimote ( secured funding for its “micro-location” technology powered by Qualcomm chips. The product is call Gimbal Proximity beacons and they work with iOS platforms (using Smart Bluetooth) with claims of location accuracy down to a mere 12 inches. Now retailers will know exactly who is in front of that new End-cap, how long they are engaged and oh by the way, can serve up a spiffy new coupon directly on the screen to help entice that buyer in ways Amazon can only wish for. Proximity marketing opens up doors with a new view on the retail experience.

Another company ThinAir, is moving coupon clipping into the digital age with the promise to deliver coupons into the shopping aisle directly to the smartphone screen with its ActiveShopper technology based on both NFC and Smart Bluetooth radios. Early partnerships include News America Marketing (NewsCorp.) British Telecom (BT) and NXP (chips) in Europe, and others.

So beyond screen size, one of the biggest differences between iPhone 5 and the new iPhone 6 launch boils down to those three simple letters, NFC. Apple took lots of heat a year ago for not including this de facto standard for retail payment terminals into their (then) new phones. But what we may discern now one year later, is like any good poker player Apple may not have wanted to tip its hand in the middle of the game. They were silent on the issue of NFC until the pre-launch leak just days before the iPhone 6 was announced. Perhaps Apple needed that precious 52 weeks to solidify retail customers, and entice them with no less than 800M of the world’s most wealthy credit card customers handily available in the Apple iTunes vault. And with the promise of privacy on its lips, but an unprecedented depth of specific consumer knowledge in the vault, it will be a delicate walk for Apple in its deployment of Apple Pay and all the ancillary Proximity Marketing technology it can now deliver. And if anything, Apple will be keeping its eye on the bottom line as it looks for new ways to help keep company profits (and growth) going in the right direction.  We’re in for a wild year so buckle up. – Steve Sechrist

Estimote’s Global deployment