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Want to give iBeacons a try? Head to an Apple Store

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One of the coolest new features Apple(s aapl) introduced in iOS 7 is support for iBeacons, small Bluetooth sensors that create a “beacon” around a region so an app can alert you when you enter one. And starting today, users can put this technology to the test at the Apple Store, according to The Associated Press. The report says that Apple is planning to switch on iBeacons throughout its 254 U.S. retail stores starting today.

I contacted Apple’s 24-hour Fifth Avenue location in New York City, which has about 20 iBeacons transmitters placed throughout the store, to ask if they are currently active. The store representative I spoke with said he couldn’t comment on whether the iBeacons are live, but that the Apple Store app has recently been updated with iBeacon support.

So if you what to give it a try, you’ll need a device running iOS 7 with Bluetooth enabled. Then you need to download the Apple Store app, and agree to receive in-store notifications and let Apple track your location. (By their very nature, location-sensing iBeacons are not intended for use by those concerned with having their location tracked.) Once you enter a store and your device is recognized, the app should automatically switch to “in-store mode.”

This allows Apple to deliver a number of helpful messages to your device. If you’re walking past an iPhone display, for instance, the app might check your iPhone upgrade availability and whether you can trade in your current phone. Or it can simply notify you if something you ordered is ready for in-store pickup, which you can then show to a store a clerk.

Aside from the Apple Store, expect iBeacons to start popping up in a lot more places in the future. Macy’s is currently testing iBeacons through the Shopkick app, and the MLB has confirmed that iBeacons will make their way to a number of stadiums in the future.

For now, though, you should be able to get a taste of the new technology at your local Apple store.

2 Responses to “Want to give iBeacons a try? Head to an Apple Store”

  1. Getting shaken down in stores doesn’t interest me, but there is one application of this feature that might be quite lucrative for the right developers. I know. From time to time, I’ve worked at science exhibitions and art museums.

    The market for audio tour devices for museums and exhibitions is in sad shape. Two companies dominate the market and charge farr too much for their devices. What their dedicated devices do could be easily done and more by an app running on a museum-loanable iPod touch/iPad mini or by a visitor’s iPhone.

    Ideally, the system would need to be smart enough to detect when where someone is standing and play the appropriate audio or even video. The audio/video download wouldn’t have to take place then. It could be done earlier.

    Anyone’s that’s interested should talk to some of their local museums. The best option might be generic software that could be adapted to create a specialized app for a particular museum. Long-term, it might even be merged with a map to the museum and give walking turn-by directions through the museum.

    And if you do the latter for the Seattle Art Museum, please, please include directions to the restrooms. They’re so hidden, I’ve probably had to give directions to them thousands of times.

    Actually, the walking turn-by directions might be a good idea on its own for an iBeacon app, particularly for large complex buildings such as hospitals, shopping centers and those dastardly Ikea stores. Just treat that iBeacon as a beacon to find where someone is and create instructions to get where they want to be.

    That’d be much better than getting hassled to buy, buy, buy.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer.