Tech trends for 2015: The iBeacon

Apple’s Bluetooth-powered iBeacon is set to shake up the retail industry in 2015 with technology that simplifies payments and enables on-site offers...

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  • Megan Dunsby

“iBeacon technology will give developers and retailers the ability to target consumers on a more specific level than ever before.”

If 2014 was the year for real-time mobile targeting and location awareness, as noted in our tech trends index of 2014, then expect 2015 to see retail-tracking technology get a whole lot smarter as Apple advances its iBeacon hardware.

A device which uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-powered 4.0 technology, the iBeacon is a transmitter which enables a smart phone or other device to perform actions when in close proximity, opening up a host of opportunities for retailers and advertisers. For instance, the iBeacon can help generate notifications of nearby items on sale, provide information about a nearby event, or even enable payments at the point of sale (POS) in-store so customers can make a payment entirely over mobile.

In addition, the device gives retailers access to a wealth of useful data sets such as how long a person stays in a store as well as an idea of the items that they were looking to purchase; with an iOS device the iBeacon is able to identify when a phone has entered or left a store and what department the user may be standing in. The iBeacon's commercial capabilities also extend to the logistics industry as the device can be used to set a region around a movable object like a food truck or a ship so businesses can track their goods.

Apple began to roll out the iBeacon in its stores in the US in late 2013 but over the last year UK firms have also stepped into the market and begun to pilot the devices. Virgin Atlantic is currently conducting a trial of the iBeacon at Heathrow Airport to automatically pull up a user's mobile boarding pass for inspection when the passenger moves towards the security checkpoint, while the likes of Waitrose and Tesco have been trialling the device in their stores.

Although the technology is still relatively new with physical limitations such as signal strength and materials. additional developments are set for 2015 following Apple's strategy to make the iBeacon available to the “myriad of physical locations where beacons could be deployed”. The tech giant also has a range of developer kits available to support the creation of additional iBeacon-integrated hardware and accessories.

How it works

The iBeacon submits Bluetooth transmitter sensers which are picked up by a compatible app or iPhone (currently only available to iPhone 4's and above). In turn, these apps listen out for the signal transmitted by the beacon and respond accordingly as soon as the phone comes in range to determine the device's location, or to trigger an action on that device such as a push notification.

As interest in the iBeacon has grown, so too have the number of vendors creating iBeacon hardware with the device now available in a variety of forms such as a coin cell device, a USB stick or a Bluetooth-enabled USB dongle. This increase in demand has also made the technology more affordable – devices can now be purchased for a little as £3.20.

Howard Simms, co-founder and director of UK mobile app company Apadmi, said:

“Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, used in indoor proximity system iBeacon, is a technology that has been increasingly realised by retailers and marketers in the last year and this will continue in 2015. This is because it combines the use of mobile apps and location-based services to reach out to customers in the right place and at the right time with targeted content.

“iBeacons can give customers specific information, deals and advice depending on where they are in the store, the time of day, their purchase history or based on other mobile behaviour. This personalisation of a consumer’s retail experience will be used to drive people back to the high street as customers discover how they can engage with retail stores in innovative and personalised ways.

“iBeacon technology will give developers and retailers the ability to target consumers on a more specific level than ever before. Large amounts of data will be generated through using such technology and this will assist with businesses’ strategic decision-making and enable companies to mobilise their marketing and sales teams accordingly.”

Megan Dunsby
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