I’ve an iOS developers account, so I’ve been playing around with iOS7 for a month or so, and have to say it’s pretty good, there’s still a way to go yet and there’s still a few bugs to iron out, plus I’m glad to see the back of all that digital felt & leather! But that’s not why I’m posting, iOS7 is out now so you can check it out for yourself.
No the reason I’m posting, is iBeacons. Like a lot of people, I’ve been longing for Apple to include NFC in the iPhone, and was hoping the 5S would have it, so was a bit miffed to see that it was still absent… but I missed iBeacons in the launch keynote presentation.
Now it’s all starting to fall into place, fingerprint scanning, Bluetooth 4, iBeacons… oh sneaky! I won’t go into details but let me point out a couple of very important distinctions between RFID & NFC… RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a protocol that allows the wireless non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data. NFC (Near Field Communication) is a set of standards for devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity.
So what does that mean in English… NFC chips are now in almost every credit / debit card and many smart phones, and allow you to make small payments or gather item info etc. As the name implies the great thing about NFC is that the devices have to be in very close proximity to connect… but that’s also a bad thing, as a retailer cannot push notifications to shopper unless they’re within 5 cm.
iBeacons (which is integrated into the iOS7) on the other hand uses the RFID protocol, which means that any iPhone / iPod / iPad (iWatch in the future), can detect other iBeacon devices at a range of 200m (but it can also be limited down to 10cm). So what this means for retailers is that they can transmit customised coupons, product offers / info, location, maps, directions etc directly to shoppers within their stores without needing shopper instigation, is Minority Report Advertising about to become a reality? But there’s another really important factor about iBeacon, the users iOS device isn’t just a passive receiver being bombarded by coupons and offers, as any iOS7 device can also become an iBeacon transmitter! This allows the user to filter out unwanted offers and connections… bad for the retailer you may think, but on the contrary it’s great news, rather than wasting theirs and the customers time with offers they’re not interested in, the user can tell the retailer (or advertiser) what they are interested in, now that’s powerful… plus there’s likely to be greater uptake by users if they can filter what they do and don’t want.
The potential advantages of iBeacons is huge, and with the built in fingerprint confirmation, the concerns over long range cyber pickpocketing or snooping are reduced. Of course if Apple had included a NFC chip as well that would have been perfect, but this is Apple’s way of breaking the back of NFC payments, are at least slowing it down in the short term so it can get leverage (sort of what it did with Adobe’s Flash dominance on the web vs HTML5, and look how that ended up). Apple do have their own a NFC / fingerprint solution in the works, but that may never see the light of day, especially if iBeacons and the fingerprint scanner take off in the way they’re planning!
So maybe I will upgrade to an iPhone 5S after all.
more details here on Gigaom
and check out the Estimote Beacons