In mid-2013, Apple introduced a new technology called iBeacon that enabled iOS-powered phones and tablets to communicate with nearby devices through Bluetooth Smart technology.
iBeacon allows mobile apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from “beacons” broadcasting from other Bluetooth Smart powered devices and react accordingly. In short, your iOS device can alert an app when you approach or leave a location with an iBeacon.
In addition to monitoring location, an app can estimate your proximity to an iBeacon (for example, a display or checkout counter in a retail store) and then adjust its behavior based on the iBeacon it discovered (for example, an iBeacon placed in the cookie aisle of a store could cause your favorite shopping app to display a promotion for Oreos).
Normal GPS technology is accurate to within a few hundred meters, but iBeacon technology allows mobile apps to deliver contextual content to users within feet of their location.
While much of the focus has been on how iBeacon can benefit retailers and enhance the in-store shopping experience, many more industries can benefit from its technology. Here’s a look at five of them.
An app called BeHere aimed at teachers uses the iBeacon technology to recognize students and automatically take attendance as they enter the classroom. In addition, the app can automatically give a teacher in a classroom the picture and profile of every student detected in the room via iBeacons.
The app also has a great feature for the shy and quiet students who can tap a button to request help from a teacher.
Here are some other ways the iBeacon technology could disrupt education:
Alert parents when their kids are not at school
Classrooms can have learning zones where different educational content is shown in each zone
Allow teachers and students to communicate through iBeacon-enabled messaging apps.
Dating is an obvious use case, as research shows that proximity is a stronger predictor for marriage, more so than similarity in age, religion, marital status, ethnicity, and level of education.
A dating app called Mingleton uses iBeacon technology to help you connect only with people in your immediate vicinity.
The app leverages Core Bluetooth and Core Location technology in the iPhone to help its users find one another within a small space like a bar or restaurant. Not only that, iBeacon lets users see profile information about the people who might be around them.
Other ways the iBeacon technology could disrupt the dating scene:
iBeacons around activities that show the profiles of those participating
Various ways to apply the technology to speed dating
A venue can use iBeacon to allow patrons to interact for dates, drive homes, or buying drinks
3. Home Electronics
An app called Launch Here (formerly Placed) turns your iPhone into the smartest personal assistant that you’ll have at home. The app responds instantly to your environment, allowing you to launch other supported apps (or to a custom launch URL of your choosing).
For example, you could place an iBeacon on your living room sofa and the app will send you a push notification to launch the Apple Remote app so you can enjoy Netflix on your Apple TV.
But the possibilities don’t end there. Imagine a television that comes with an iBeacon and allows you to see TV listings or popular Netflix movies anytime you’re near it. Or a refrigerator that opens a grocery list app so you can easily add items to the shopping list.
The official app of this year’s SXSW festival used the iBeacon technology to help attendees pick up their badges faster and get more involved in the sessions they attend.
One key feature of the app allowed for real-time audience interaction during sessions, where attendees can network with other attendees in that session, participate in a discussion forum, and answer live audience polls.
Other use cases could include allowing sponsors to show content as attendees approach their booth or match attendees based on profile to make networking more efficient.
Major League Baseball has installed iBeacons at 20 ballparks around the U.S. to offer iOS-using spectators a more engaging experience at the ballpark. With MLB.com At The Ballpark version 3.0, fans can check-in to the ballpark and teams can push tailor-made notifications and relevant offers through the app.
With HD televisions and rising gas prices, fans are starting to prefer the home viewing experience over the in-park experience. This move could help professional sports teams attract more fans to the ballpark.
Other ways sports can leverage iBeacon include polls where fans can guess the next play and a feature that shows upgrade possibilities on available seats during the game (maybe a HotelTonight for game seats).
Bobby Gill is the founder of Blue Label Labs, a mobile app development lab based in New York, and the editor of IdeaToAppster.com, an online resource for news, articles and tips for mobile app design and development.