When iOS 7 is released next week, retailers and other large indoor spaces are going to be able to use a technology called iBeacon to send data over short distances to iPhones. Here’s how it will work.

online shopping mall
photo: Thinkstock

At WWDC in June, Apple quietly announced iBeacon, one of the more prominent features of iOS 7. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, mentioned nothing about about it in the keynote, and Apple hasn’t provided any details about it; it was only seen on one slide in the WWDC keynote.

iBeacon Apple WWDC 2013 iOS 7

Nor did Apple say anything about it during the iPhone event Tuesday. But I’m sure this is going to be a big deal, and startup companies like Estimote agree, announcing its support for Apple’s technology Tuesday and releasing this demonstration video.

Why is that so? For a couple of reasons: it opens a door to new set of applications such as indoor maps and in-store marketing, it makes the internet of things a realty and it might kill NFC (near-field communications), the wireless technology most linked with mobile payments.

What is iBeacon?

Using Bluetooth Low Energy(BLE), iBeacon opens up a new whole dimension by creating a beacon around regions so your app can be alerted when users enter them. Beacons are a small wireless sensors placed inside any physical space that transmit data to your iPhone using Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as Bluetooth 4.0 and Bluetooth Smart).

For example, imagine you walk into a mall with an iPhone 5s (comes with iOS 7 and iBeacon). You are approaching a Macy’s store, which means your iPhone is entering into Macy’s iBeacon region. Essentially iBeacon can transmit customized coupons or even walking directions to the aisle where a particular item is located. It can prompt a customer with special promotions or a personalized messages and recommendations based on their current location or past history with the company. Smartphones that are in an iBeacon zone will benefit from personalized microlocation-based notification and actions.

iBeacon demonstration example mobile shopping

In the age of context, iBeacon can provide the information you needed when it is needed. Just like NFC, iBeacons even allow you to pay the bill using your smart phone. The best part? iBeacon can run for up to two years on a single coin battery and it comes with accelerometer, flash memory, a powerful ARM processor and Bluetooth connectivity. Also, you can add more sensors to iBeacon to provide better context.

What is BLE?

As the name implies, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is built specifically to consume small amounts of energy and make phone batteries last longer. But there are limitations with BLE when it comes to transferring data. BLE only supports very low data rates and you cannot stream audio using BLE. You can send small files using BLE and it is a good candidate for small data packets sent from wearable computing such as smart watches and fitness trackers. Built-in platform support for BLE was only added in Android 4.3 (some Android OEMs like Samsung and HTC did develop their own SDKs for BLE prior to Google releasing native support), which is why fitness tracker apps won’t work on some old Android phones.

Why it might be a NFC killer?

iBeacon could be a NFC killer because of its range. NFC tags are pretty cheap compared to NFC chips, but NFC tags are required on each product because NFC works only in very close proximity. In theory, NFC range is up to 20cm (7.87 inches), but the actual optimal range is less than 4cm (1.57 inches). Also, mobile devices need to contain a NFC chip that can handle any NFC communications. On the other hand, iBeacons are a little expensive compared to NFC chips, but iBeacons range is up to 50 meters. Not all phones have NFC chips, but almost all have Bluetooth capability.

Why it is so affordable?

Let’s go back to Macy’s. The average area occupied by a Macy’s store is 175,000 square feet, which is 16,258 square meters. iBeacon’s range is 50 meters (typical Bluetooth range), or 2,500 square meters. So a typical Macy’s store would need 7 iBeacons.

Estimote, a company which just launched to sell beacons, is taking pre-orders at the price of $99 for 3 beacons. The range of Estimote’s beacons is 50 meters, but the recommended range is 10 meters. If you go with the recommendation, you need 1 Estimote beacon for every 100 square meters, which would cost you about $5,000. If Macy’s wanted to add NFC tags (each at 10 cents) to all its products to send information to phones, it would cost $1,000 for 10,000 products, $10,000 for 100,000 products and $100,000 for 1 million products. NFC may not be needed on all products, but this will give a rough idea on how much it could cost.

Google’s focus is on NFC; it just added BLE support to Android

Google has been heavily focused on NFC from the beginning and it didn’t add platform support for BLE until the release of version 4.3. Lot of the apps that rely on BLE couldn’t release the apps for Android phones. Some Android OEM vendors recognized the need and rolled out their own implementations. Google finally listened to the demand and made it part of Android 4.3. But Google has continued to push on NFC and rolled out the NFC-based Android Beam in Android 4.0.

Apple’s focus on Bluetooth


Apple has avoided NFC, and all the rumors about NFC getting added to iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 are turned out to be false. Instead of NFC, Apple worked on alternatives using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. During the introduction of iOS 7’s AirDrop at WWDC in June, Apple’s mobile development chief Craig Federighi said, “There’s no need to wander around the room, bumping your phone,” referring how NFC phones need to be very close to transfer the data. As stated on Apple’s website:

AirDrop lets you quickly and easily share photos, videos, contacts — and anything else from any app with a Share button. Just tap Share, then select the person you want to share with. AirDrop does the rest using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. No setup required. And transfers are encrypted, so what you share is highly secure.

New set of applications

With built-in microlocation geofencing features, iBeacon opens a door to new set of applications in indoor mapping. The GPS signals inside malls are very poor as the signals travel by line of sight, meaning they will pass through clouds, glass and plastic but will not go through most solid objects such as buildings and mountains.

This is the biggest problem for indoor navigation. Google has done in-store maps, but it couldn’t implement indoor navigation because of the line of sight issue. This is where iBeacon’s micro-location feature is going to shine.

From your smart phone, you’ll be able to connect to a nearest iBeacon and get its hard coded GPS location to navigate or use the signal to move to closer to iBeacon. iBeacon supports “enter” and “exit” events, so it can send different notifications while entering into the range and exiting out of the range. Imagine having a museum indoor tour with navigation, in-store navigation to the physical products, or navigation to terminals inside airports and subways.

BLE is the answer to internet of things

To make the internet of things a reality, a sensor’s form factor is very crucial. Size, affordability and internet connectivity are the key factors in a sensor. The possibilities are endless if you could control all sensors these remotely; switching on the AC on the way back home, controlling the refrigerator temperature based on the weather, controlling the room lighting from your smart phone, and so on. Estimote is also working on reducing the size of its beacons so that that they will be more affordable.

Apple has found a smart way to wirelessly transmit data over short distances using BLE. So why do you need to bump your phone with another? Why do you need NFC if you could share the data with anyone in the region with the existing bluetooth technology?

BLE can solve these microlocation data challenges in ways that NFC can’t duplicate.

Hari Gottipati is a software professional, distinguished architect, thought leader, consultant, speaker and freelance writer who specializes in Open Systems, Java, internet scale computing/apps, big data, NoSQL, mobile and Web 2.0. He is currently working as a distinguished principal architect at Apollo Group and in the past he worked for many mobile startups, as well as big companies including Yahoo, Travelocity, and Motorola.

Featured image courtesy of Thinkstock Photos.

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  1. Why it might be a NFC killer

    No. it won’t. NFC tags do not require power and can be printed into wall poster. Besides this, NFC is more suitable for secure communications because of a very low proximity. and as you said , Google has already added BLE support to Android 4.3 => Apple has no advantage here as well.

    1. Google added BLE support in Android based on the demand and it is still focusing on NFC. It’s just matter of a focus for Google to go after indoor navigation apps with BLE. Agreed, NFC do not require power, but NFC chips are expensive. Cost is the huge factor here and I am sure, in future we see all smart phones (even low cost smart phones) having Bluetooth, but not necessarly a NFC chip.

      1. “in future we see all smart phones (even low cost smart phones) having Bluetooth, but not necessarly a NFC chip.”

        That’s because some will still be made by Apple. ;-)

        1. Apple has significant share in smart phone market, so you are right @Kary.

          1. Right. 13% share globally. Android has 79%.

            1. Now now children; put them back into your pants…

            2. Luv it John! horses for courses I say. Dale

            3. Overall marketshare isn’t relevant in this context. How many of that 79% have NFC?

            4. Well the more appropriate question would be of the 79 who chose to buy with NFC equipped?

              I know I chose to avoid it and others will as well.

            5. You “chose” to avoid it??? Think it causes cancer or something?

            6. and how many of them can be upgraded to 4.3?

            7. The old saying is figures never lie but liars use figures. The real question is what percentage of users are reasonably likely to use NFC. For example do you really expect a $200 or less phone in a third-world country to be a likely candidate for using NFC?

            8. Third world is precisely where NFC and all sorts of electronic transactions are taking place. Look at the pay-by-cellphone explosion happening in Africa.

            9. And in Africa, barring large subsidies, Apple will get little to no penetration there.

            10. Actually, yes. Developing countries have already embraced new, mobile-based, escrow money transfer processes (like PayPal, but simpler) in the absence of physical banking locations.

              I can see cheap, NFC-enabled devices that allow payments via ‘bump’ becoming hugely popular.

            11. Actually, there are 700 million iOS devices around the world to 1 billion Android.

              In terms of active app-using devices, the difference a few months ago was 510 million iOS devices to 564 million Android.

              Not such a large disparity is it?

            12. Can you cite the source for this? That’s a handy summary but without a source it’s accuracy will be questioned.

            13. Flurry Analytics are the ones who report that active app-using Android devices number 564 million worldwide compared to around 510 million iOS devices as of April of 2013.

            14. The more important thing to note is who is using their devices full capability? That would indicate which way this will go. I don’t think most Android users even know what their devices can do or even that their device is Android.

              Just look at mobile data usage between the two platforms for example.Last time I checked, iOS was responsible for like 80% of mobile data usage.

            15. Technology Never Sleeps Rocwurst Thursday, November 21, 2013

              No the one of devices. Remember when you put iOS devices you are including all iPads, iTouch and other devices not just mobile phones.

            16. Then again Apple only has released 8 iPhones to date. Going up against thousands and thousands of Android devices. You can’t compare one company against dozens, the iPhone is one of the top smartphones.

      2. When you say “NFC Chips” what do you mean in this context? The NFC Reader components that live in the Smart phone? or the NFC Tag ICs?
        NFC Tag IC’s are significantly less expensive than a BLE IC, especially considering that the BLE beacon requires a battery.
        I would agree that inclusion of an NFC reader in a phone burdens the cost of the phone.

        1. Tags are useless for the sort of thing he is talking about. The solution has to include beaconing and payments. Why android users think tags do more than they do is beyond me. i guess to massage their ego for having NFC.

          1. Just because you don’t know how you’d use them does not mean that they have no use. Just look into all the things people do with them+tasker. It’s kind of absurd just how versatile they make any smartphone.

            1. The problem with NFC tags in public is this: with it’s known proximity, do you expect people to queue up to “tap” their phone to get directions or scan that special offer?

              We have the same issue with public QR codes, no one scans them because people look like idiots or too many people want to do the same thing at the same time.

              BLE + iBeacon will be more personal because the signal and the user literally meet half way.

          2. I guess you don’t know the joy of tapping two devices together and a 1GB movie is being configured for transfer by Wifi Direct (NFC is used for initial setup while super fast Wifi Direct is used for actual data transfer). It borders on magical.

            1. @Kai-Chun Lin : you get it… It’s not so easy to share a movie like that on iOS, but that’s why Apple succeeded in trading with movie editors so that we can get movies on iOS. Stealing intellectual property is not in the ADN of Apple, it’s in Google’s though.

            2. Ha. So much judgment. What if it’s a self-filmed video? What if it’s public domain? Not every “movie share” is piracy, you know.

            3. Bram Alexander Andersen Kai-Chun Lin Wednesday, October 2, 2013

              Eh yes, it’s called AirDrop, no bumbing involved

    2. There are, what, like dozens of Android devices in the world with BLE and Android 4.3? I’m not taking about different models, but total devices in people’s hands. While there are over 100 million iOS devices with BLE. NFC has been a pretty big bust. (I’ve never met a human who has used NFC for anything, ever.) So these iBeacons, with a monstrous number of devices already ready for it, have a decent chance of becoming popular. And if these iBeacons do become popular, the vast majority of Android users won’t be able to take advantage unless they buy a new phone in 2014 or later. It’s sort of like how Android got Vine _eventually_, but not until they were frustrated for months watching all their iPhone-toting friends using it. iPhone users may push stores to use BLE beacons, and if they do, it will mostly be iPhone users taking advantage of the beacons, not Android users.

      1. The HTC One, and the galaxy s3 and s4 all already support wifi direct and BLE. That’s dozens of millions in hands. No bumping needed. 4.3 isn’t needed, either. Google was late to the dance on that one.

      2. There are a zillion android phones that support wifi direct and BLE. The HTC One, galaxy s3 and s4. That’s several dozens of millions right there. Android 4.3 isn’t needed and neither is NFC, so no bumping needed either. Seems their big problem is not giving things another fancy name like netburst, ibeacon, or blast processing and sticking to the lame industry designations.

        1. Developer support is also a big deal and speaking as someone who builds both iOS and Android apps with native SDKs, there is no API or SDK for iBeacon or its concept in Android. I have no doubt that its doable…but Apple’s got a seamless, elegant, easy to implement API for iBeacons.

          Also, the phones you mentioned are great Android phones, but any Android developer will tell you that their sales are made up of lots of other phones that don’t have that support! Whereas BLE has been around since the iPhone 4S on iOS. Android fragmentation issue; this is precisely why Nike doesn’t build for Android b/c it’s just not worth the effort to support such a mess b/w BLE / non BLE devices across the millions of different types of Android devices…

          1. Nothing to do with the fact that a lot of Android users don’t buy into the Apple or Nike premium for sub-standard products, then?

            1. No matter from what angle I view your response it fails in any manner of logic. Developers refrain from making Android apps because Android users don’t buy Apple products?

          2. Are you aware that the iBeacon is nothing new? Are you aware that you can order evaluation kits with such radio beacons for iOS and Android?
            Read more http://www.gsm-modem.de/M2M/m2m-componets/ant-bluetooth-4-0-beacon-evaluation-kit-for-home-automation-solution-to-support-humans-and-pets/

        2. lol… zillion.. can you give the source for this quote?

      3. > I’ve never met a human who has used NFC for anything, ever

        I’ve spent time in Japan, and they use NFC a lot. For example, the entire train system uses NFC for ticketing. You charge money on your “Suica card”, and then you swipe it when you enter a station. When you exit, it figures out the correct fare and deducts it form your account. It is an incredibly convenient system!!!

        I wonder if BLE could do the same thing. With the trains and turnstiles, the proximity is important, and it needs to be a near instantaneous transaction.

        Can BLE tell distance and could it be set up to only interact with phones that are within 10cm or so?

        1. “I wonder if BLE could do the same thing. With the trains and turnstiles, the proximity is important, and it needs to be a near instantaneous transaction.

          Can BLE tell distance and could it be set up to only interact with phones that are within 10cm or so?”

          Yes it can …

          1. Not to mention you also have to ability to extend that functional range to say 2m (not really possible w/ NFC) and then just be able to step on the bus or through the turnstile and never have to take your phone out of your pocket at all. You also still have the flexibility to use the 10cm distance if it’s a security concern.

            1. Side effects may include irradiation of your balls, but still… ;-)

              (Seriously though, I know there was some noise about the dangers of Bluetooth radiation a few years ago. Is BLE considered less of a risk?)

          2. Yes, it can, but it’s not exactly accurate! BLE uses RSSI-based localisation techniques such as triangulation and fingerprinting. None of these methods are perfect. RSSI is affected by many factors like obstacles, multipath fading, antenna polarisation and cross-body shielding.

            Personally, I wouldn’t trust BLE at any range with any faith in its accuracy, as factors beyond your control could easily skew the results. Also, have you seen the Estimote beacons? They would make easy targets for removal, thus rendering iBeacon useless.

            iBeacon will end up only being installed in Starbucks and The Gap, where most Apple users hang out…

            1. Good one! The last line. 7-11 and Walmart will have NFC where all the ‘Droids hang out.

        2. Ron Miller, that is probably the most ignorant statement ever met. You obviously never been anywhere, especially in Asia…

      4. ….Because you have met so many people using iBeacon and BLE right?….

      5. I have been buyin tram tickets in Helsinki for ages with NFC ticketing. Even with Symbian device. Nothing really new in that.

      6. US-centric fan boys need to open their eyes. NFC is used by millions of people everyday for mobile payments and access to public transit. The iBeacon is cute but you can also do it with an Android phone, the devices are already on the market.

      7. Android 4.4 (KitKat) will support BLE and older devices (I’m guessing as far back as Android 2.3). That’s a pretty huge proportion of the billion android devices currently in the wild.

        Actually, I use NFC a lot. There’s a chip embedded in a few of my credit/debit cards. Once Google wallet integration is available in Canada, I’ll save a step by just bumping my phone against the terminal instead of reaching for my wallet.

        Perhaps a few Fixed wheel bicycle & Fedora shops will be early adopters for the iDevices, but I suspect it’ll be Android users that determine whether BLE or NFC wins.

      8. > I’ve never met a human who has used NFC for anything, ever

        Probably because you only hang out with other pretentious iSnobs like yourself. Tough to get any diversity when all your opinions are the same.

      9. NFC on a phone or NFC in general? There are quite a few NFC users in Los Angeles because the “TAP cards” are NFC. TAP cards are required to use the Metro rail service. Around the world NFC cards are using for ticketing. It is a very popular technology. The DoD is working to upgrade their CAC system to use NFC. Full end-to-end PKI. Any phone that uses a hardware crypto chip + NFC would work as a virtual CAC.

    3. “Low proximity” has nothing to do with security. That same feature has been used to describe as a security feature for a whole host of technologies including WiFI, BlueTooth, and RFID. Guess what? All can be attacked from inches, feet, or miles away. So can NFC.

      1. Your assertion about the correlation between distance and security might be correct, but your are incorrect about NFC vulnerabilities. It is extremely secure. If you have an example of when it has been hacked I’d be very interested.

    4. So, is this why NFC, using the massive reach of android devices, has been fully adopted and used by android users?

    5. You’re missing the point on usability. It’s not a specmanship issue.

    6. Articles with Kill in it shouldn’t be published Vlad Wednesday, October 30, 2013

      NFC isn’t trying to solve prox. Data xfer with tags, secure payment yes, but I rarely see NFC and prox problems. Plus years and years of PCI developing protocols for NFC.

      Misdirection, like saying Bluetooth is going to kill Ethernet wireless. NFC and BLE don’t compete.

  2. I tend to agree with all but one on iBeacon bill payments. When Visa and Mastercard are lobbying for NFC and making payment terminals, how will iBeacon fit into the scheme of things between customers and banks – is a big question.

    I somehow believe that the bill payments via NFC would be more apt and close to conventional card payments. And above all we need to be bothered about card security while paying at few feet distance.

    1. “Visa and Mastercard are lobbying for NFC and making payment terminals”
      That’s because they have already invested in the technology. Th problem is, the merchants are being charged for the units, and for the transactions. Most retailers want nothing to do with NFC.

      And NFC being “more apt and close to conventional card payments” is just ignorance. NFC is just a method of transmission and has nothing to do with how secure the actual transaction is. Do a Google search to see how easy it is to hijack an NFC transaction.

      1. The merchants are being charged for the hire of an eftpos terminal and the transactions that they process through that terminal. The actual method of payment is irrelevant (i.e. Magnetic Strip Swipe, Contactless (NFC) or Chip Insert.

    2. iBeacons can support payments as well. Once the Apple’s developer NDA expires, we can learn about the internals of iBeacons including security.

    3. It will be so interesting to see how iBeacon is going to break the barrier in terms of payment. Bank has its own security system, and when it goes down to the technology routine, they act more conservative and defensive than anyone else. Why do they need to rewrite the whole system to catch a case which only happens when people forgot their wallet?

      The real solution is to minimise the loose, the maximum you can spend per transition with NFC contactless payment is just enough for a sandwich + bottle of coke. It is akin to an emergent payment than anything else. At the end of day, you still need your wallet and bank card if you expect a decent shopping.

      Payment is the last thing to consider in terms of the use of whatever iBeam or NFC. Micro-location exploration sounds more promising to improve a shopping experience.

      1. In Australia, Visa and MasterCard payments with Contactless will work for any amount. Under $100 is Tap and Go, over $100 is Tap + Pin or Sign.

  3. “iBeacon’s range is 50 meters (typical Bluetooth range), or 2,500 square meters”
    A circle of radius 50m has an area of 7,800 sq meters!

    1. Likewise “The range of Estimote’s beacons is 50 meters, but the recommended range is 10 meters. If you go with the recommendation, you need 1 Estimote beacon for every 100 square meters…” should be 314 square meters.

  4. “iBeacon’s range is 50 meters (typical Bluetooth range), or 2,500 square meters.”
    Wrong – a circle of radius 50m has an area of 7,800 square meters.

    1. That’s even better – one beacon for every 7,800 square meters. pi is missing in the formula. Thanks.

      1. Or a brain is missing in the calculation

      2. Now show me your circular store…

  5. Stupid Apple tryng to call bluetooth tech another name just so they can own it. Would you want your phone to be a bait by broadcasting its presence saying “here i am ready to be hacked”!? As opposed to NFC being close range where you ensure you only transact/pay what you touch/hover it on. And fyi, nfc is just a coilf wires and a chip connected to a battery. Thats why soke samsung phoje has it optional because some are just sandwiched on the battery themselves. No need to have it inside the phone circuitry. Easy.

    1. “Stupid Apple tryng to call bluetooth tech another name just so they can own it.”
      Which tech are they trying to call their own?

      Let’s do a search on any of the many Internet search sites to see how easy it is to hijack an NFC transaction. Do some research, before posting opinions based on assumptions of technologies that you know nothing about. Easy. You’re an ignorant fool.

      1. FUD – all the articles I found on this topic talk about browser exploits iniiated by an NFC phone to phone bump. If you don’t secure your protocols you will get scammed, just like you don’t leave open ports listening or bluetooth on all the time. It’s sad that users have to be knowledgable about their security to the degree that they must understand the ramifications of their actions, but then again, burying your head in the sand doesn’t work in the real world either. Sooner or later you’re gonna lose some money to fix it or make it go away.

    2. iBeacon is just a particularly formatted BLE advertisement. There’s no reason that an Android device, or any BLE equipped device for that matter, could take advantage of a beacon. iOS7 is just equipped to handle and work with the beacon at an OS level. An Android app could use a beacon as well, but it would be the responsibility of the developer to translate what the iBeacon packet means. On iOS7, it’s like 3 lines of code and then the OS monitors it in the background. Apple has done nothing but provide a format and documentation for a technology that already exists. They haven’t tried to own it or say that anyone else can’t use it.

  6. It’s important to understand that square footage of the store is irrelevant to iBeacons.

    All you need is ibeacons at all possible entrances and exits, and “maybe” (but not even required) at escalators and elevators. iBeacon features will be about geofencing, not continuous coverage.

    You might also have iBeacons at the entry points to major departments, llike Mens, Shoes, whatever. You might even have beacons at specific displays. This will all depend on the merchandising strategy and whether brands (like Sephora) want special coverage.

    The placement of the beacons is really crucial. But you are fencing, not covering square footage.

    1. Agreed, the ideal case could be just placing iBeacons at entrances and exits, but I am giving an example where a store wants to provide custom coverage based on the aisle/category/product.

    2. If you only had them at entrances you couldn’t provide mapping/directions within the store.

      1. Yes, that’s what I meant by custom coverage based on the aisle/category/product. If you want the custom coverage such as walking directions, you need to place them every where in the store.

        1. Yes that’s one use case but even in that case, square footage isn’t the driver. At that point, the number of aisles/displays/departments is the driver. It’s highly unlikely that your navigation app will even want (much less need) continuous coverage).

          The key with iBeacons is to shake yourself free of the GPS paradigm. You really don’t want or need GPS coordinates in most cases.

          But, admittedly, that is my opinion!

      2. Do you really need an iBeacon to give you directions within a store? Every major store I’ve ever been to has giant signs all over the place telling you what department you’re in. That’s assuming you can’t just look at the stuff around you and tell. Same goes with Malls. While you could use your phone to get directions they have this thing called a “Directory” that works pretty well.

        If anything you want an iBeacon to do one of two things in stores: 1) pay for stuff. which means you need an iBeacon compatible payment system at the register. 2) give you more info about a specific product like reviews, price comparisons, etc.

        For the first one both iBeacon and NFC are pretty much on a equivalent so pick one.

        For the second iBeacon has an issue. There are thousands of products in a store. You’re probably not going to give every product its own iBeacon so at best you’ll have one beacon per department. That means you need UI for finding the product your trying to get more info about. That also means users will have to search for the product in that UI that they’re looking at. Compare that to the NFC experience. You’re standing in front of a product and you tap an NFC tag for that product…. Which seems faster?

        On top of the obvious issues of scale, as others have mentioned iBeacons require power and NFC tags don’t. I can buy a blank NFC tag on amazon for about $1 which means a large retailer could probably get them for around $0.20 each. That’s about the cost of the battery needed for an iBeacon costs and it never has to be replaced…. Which seems more cost effective?

        1. “Do you really need an iBeacon to give you directions within a store?”


          One of my most annoying waste of times is to walk into a store new to me with a list of find and buy items with the need to find the signs (Which category might be the one I’m looking for?) or be totally puzzled needing to find a free clerk.

          Best examples – Small Items at Walmart, Lowes, HomeDepot, Large Groceries.

          With iBeacon, I have a list of items with aisles, maps, shelving level, and car map type directions leading me directly to what I’m buying with no wasted steep or minutes.

          Most people I know would kill for this.

  7. So, iBeacon is just an Apple branded term for BLE?

    1. Not really. iBeacon is just a protocol – structure of data that Bluetooth Low Energy devices (BLE) could broadcast around and iBeacon-compatible phones could pickup the signal to trigger contextual actions.

      1. It’s just a formatted stream of numbers on a BLE advertisement. Way simpler than it seems. You just break it down into little pieces to get the data you need to work with iBeacon. They’re piggy backing on BLE to create this new functionality. Basically, BLE and iBeacon aren’t two names for the same thing, but iBeacon wouldn’t exist w/o BLE.

  8. The high-level here is all generally correct, but there are some serious misunderstandings of what ibeacon is and what it’s capable of. Without breaking the (still-valid) NDA: it’s a new Bluetooth profile that allows ranging based on general proximity to a Bluetooth device.

    The idea that a !acu’s would “need” 7 ibecons is absurd without a valid use case. A Macy’s may need one (to trigger upon entry), twenty (one for each register); or 500 (one for each rack), depending upon the desired experience.

    The author is right that this is an under-appreciated development in iOS 7, and will be important going forward. He just has no clue how it actually works.

    1. As I mentioned in previous comments, we will learn about the internals of iBeacons once the NDA expires.

      1. You realize that there’s no Apple hardware to learn the “internals” of right? iBeacon as defined by Apple isn’t a device, it’s a protocol that is sent over BLE. Companies like Estimote and Roximity are just building devices that mimic what can already be done on iOS7 equipped devices. iBeacon is just a bunch of numbers sent over BLE. If you have the right equipment and stare at them long enough, it’s not hard to figure out what Apple is doing to make this witchcraft work.

        1. That’s exactly what we’ve done as we demonstrate how an iOS7 device can be used to beacon its presence and identity to fixed infrastructure – precisely the opposite of what companies like Estimote are doing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsYNHXSlVQY

          The Texas Instruments BLE packet sniffer is a great tool for understanding this witchcraft (which is non-standard, but can be interpreted nonetheless).

          1. I can see the opportunities of an iOS7 device beaconing its presence and identity to fixed infrastructure. But imagine using this for payment. It won’t work when your iOS7 device has run out of battery. I would not want to go shopping and worry about whether or not my phone is still up & running so i can pay….

            I rather use my (NFC/chip&pin) bank card, which is not battery dependent. It always works and is NOT constantly connected to the internet of things. Yes, also an NFC smart card can be hacked. It all depends on the type of NFC chip and its security level and you’d have to be close. There are also solutions coming to the market that will prevent scavenging NFC whilst in your wallet…

  9. Reblogged this on Vogue and Vagabonds and commented:
    iBeacon (with Bluetooth LE) + Biometrics + AirDrop = the new iPhone.

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