iBeacon Beckons

6 02 2014

iBeaconIn 2014 you’re going to hear a lot about Apple’s iBeacon technology. The Bluetooth LE-based technology introduced at Apple’s 2013 World Wide Developer Conference has been embraced by the NFL, MLB, and the Louvre. That’s good company for the fledgling but promising technology.

The interest stems from iBeacon’s almost friction-less user experience–something Apple knows well. The technology itself enables two-way communication between devices and needs very little energy to make it happen. So, in practical terms, a strategically placed beacon can communicate with a mobile app on your device. For the museum visitor that means that it can be prompted to access more information about Mona Lisa’s sinister smile or get a notification about today’s special at the cafe. In last week’s Super Bowl, fans approaching MetLife Stadium were directed to the most convenient gate with the help of iBeacon tech.

That’s great for the big brands and their big budgets but is there an opportunity for the smaller museums and small business owners? Apparently, Apple also has that segment in its sights. If your organization or business uses an Apple device to process its transactions–e.g., processing Square transactions with at least an iPhone 4s or iPad Air–then you have an iBeacon device in your premises. That’s a start and an opportunity to begin engaging customers.

Why is this technology any different from the more common GPS and NFC technologies? GPS doesn’t help much if you’re indoors. NFC works well if you’re willing to deposit all of your credit card information in a mobile wallet. To date, there’s been a lot of NFC promotion in support of Google Wallet but still very limited traction. The friction-less-ness of iBeacon is that it can identify where you are indoors and if Apple ultimately decides to allow transactions via iBeacon, then customers gets to a point of sale with less effort then pulling out their wallets. That’s been the Holy Grail among mobile payment systems and it may well be in reach.

Whether the technology will be quickly and enthusiastically embraced by consumers is still unknown. There’s some concern that mobile device owners might be perturbed by the perceived privacy invasion of these brief message prompts. Nevertheless, that might be overcome with an initial opt-in message that keeps them in control. The best bet at driving adoption will always be to present something your constituents value and to do so when it’s most relevant. That has always been the power of the mobile channel and it will continue to be what drives iBeacon success this year.