On December 5th, Apple deployed iBeacons (Bluetooth-powered stations) in 254 stores nationwide, creating a new shopping experience for its customers. When customers walk into Apple stores, their location can be detected by iBeacons which send location specific messages to iPhones or iPads.
To receive this service, customers need to have iOS7 on their devices and an app from the Apple Store with tracking permissions. Customers also need to have Bluetooth turned on since iBeacon transmitters use Bluetooth 4.0.
Bluetooth is a wireless connectivity technology that was invented in 1994. It consumes a lot of energy and drains cell phone batteries fast. Blue Low Energy (BLE) was introduced in 2006 and was merged into the Bluetooth core specification 4.0 in 2010. It consumes much less energy than the conventional Bluetooth. Apple deployed the technology recently with the new release of iOS7.
iOS7 enables iBeacon to communicate with iPhone and iPad through BLE. The successful deployment of iBeacon within 3 months of the iOS7 release demonstrates that vision can be realized when a plan is well thought out and executed. At the same time, iOS7 does seem to have a lot of problems and improvements need to be made.
In September 18th when Apple released iPhone 5S and 5C with BLE, the NFC ecosystem was anxious about the development since the large market share of Apple devices heavily impact technology adoption. The NFC ecosystem was hoping that Apple would adopt NFC and help to move the technology forward at a faster pace. Now, there are questions about whether NFC will ever be fully adopted since the iBeacon BLE technology was Apple’s choice.
Personally, I think BLE is a complimentary technology to NFC. The two do not have a mutually exclusive relationship. NFC is short range (4cm) wireless connectivity technology, and it can’t be tracked unless a tap happens. It works in different modes; active to active and active to passive. BLE can be tracked whenever you turn the Bluetooth on. It operates within 32 feet and it works in active to active mode. Both technologies can facilitate a more integrated consumer experience. For more details, please reference my book “Everyday NFC: Near Field Communication Explained”.