Mobile

Apple launches iBeacon shopper location tracking across its U.S. stores today

Tim Cook Apple Retail Stores
Image Credit: Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat

If you’d like to catch a glimpse of the future of retail shopping today, just head to an Apple store with an iOS 7 device.

Apple today is kicking off its iBeacon technology across its 254 U.S. retail stores, the Associated Press reports. iBeacon uses low-power Bluetooth to determine your location indoors and send you information or offers relevant to that location. For example, if you’re standing in front of an Apple Store’s iPhone display, you could get a message asking you to upgrade your iPhone (along with details on your upgrade status), the AP reports.

The technology was announced earlier this year, and Apple is partnering with other retailers to bring iBeacon to their stores as well.


Want to learn more about iBeacon? Check out our recent guest posts, “Is iBeacon ready for prime time retail?” and “What’s next for indoor location tracking with iBeacon.”]


You’ll need an iOS 7 device with Bluetooth 4.0 to take advantage of iBeacon’s tracking (which includes the iPhone 4S and later devices, as well as the third-generation iPad), and you’ll need the Apple Store app installed. Upon first entering one of Apple’s stores, you’ll be asked if you want Apple to track your location and send you notifications through its app. The AP notes you’ll have to say yes to both questions to enable iBeacon.

Today’s launch is just a glimpse at what iBeacon is capable of. Major League Baseball has also said it will use the technology across ballparks, and Macy’s has said that it’s testing iBeacon as well. Apple isn’t the first company to step into location tracking — Shopkick offers stores a device that can send alerts to shoppers through its app — but it’s poised to be the first to make consumers widely aware of it.

As with any tracking technology, there are also major privacy considerations (Apple says it doesn’t store information about customers). But, just as consumers readily accepted GPS tracking in their phones, there’s a good chance shoppers won’t mind trading some of their privacy for convenience.

The iBeacon transmitters are cheap devices that retailers can spread throughout their stores. The technology allows for iPhones and iPads to also serve as transmitters. Apple has set up around 20 transmitters at its flagship Fifth Avenue store in NYC, which includes some iOS devices, the AP reports.

Though Apple doesn’t offer an Apple Store app for Android, it’s breaking with its usually closed tradition by making the iBeacon protocol compatible with Android 4.3 devices equipped with Bluetooth 4.0. That means other firms that want to use iBeacon will actually be able to track both their iOS and Android customers.


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