Apple Launches Apple Store iBeacons to Show Why NFC is Quaint

| Analysis

Apple has launched iBeacon—Bluetooth-powered stations that can communicate with iPhones and iPads. The feature allows Apple to guide customers and send information to their devices, but the bigger story is that Apple is proactively demonstrating why it never bothered to support near-field communications, or NFC.

iBeacon is a Bluetooth LE (Low Energy Bluetooth) technology that sends push notifications to receptive device in close proximity. According to a demonstration of the technology given to the Associated Press, the Apple Store iBeacon system will push information about the products that are near you.

The feature requires customers have downloaded the Apple Store app and to give their permission to be tracked before they receive the notifications. You also have to have Bluetooth turned on for the iBeacons to see your device.

Apple Store iBeacon

Get In-Store Notifications
Apple Store App

Most importantly, Apple said it is not collecting information about shoppers through the system. Let's take a moment and consider whether the same would be true for any iBeacon implementation or similar technology from Google, Microsoft, Facebook...or anyone else.

Other information sent include notifications that an ordered device is ready for pickup and upgrade eligibility information in the case of iPhones. Apple launched iBeacons in 254 U.S. Apple Store locations on Friday, which means you can check it out now.

Apple Store iBeacon Notification

An iBeacon Notification

This feature is cool, to be sure, and once it's working smoothly—PC Magazine had difficulties making it work—it should be a great help to iPhone and iPad-wielding customers navigating Apple's crowded retail stores.

But, there is much more to this story than learning about new iPads and getting a surprise notification that you are eligible for a subsidized iPhone upgrade. What we're seeing is Apple pioneering the way mobile devices can be utilized to make shopping a better experience for consumers. What we're seeing is Apple putting its money where its mouth is when it decided not to support NFC.

Apple Store iBeacon

An iBeacon Underneath a Shelf in an Apple Store

When NFC was unveiled, it was heralded by Android fans as the best thing since sliced bread and proof that the Android ecosystem was more innovative than Apple. In particular, NFC was seen as the future of mobile payments, and Apple better jump on the bandwagon or the company was obviously doomed.

That was the narrative for a while, but the reality is that NFC has managed to almost gain novelty status. The irony is that had Apple supported NFC it would have become a far bigger success, but Apple didn't because it saw iBeacon to be a better choice.

And now Apple is showing the rest of the world how to implement iBeacons. All eyes will be on this rollout, and if it works, everyone and their corporate brother will jump on iBeacon as the way to interact with mobile devices without having things bump against each other, and NFC will once again be relegated to a means of tracking products in and out of stores.

Adam Christianson of MacCast Contributed to this article.

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When NFC was unveiled, it was heralded by Android fans as the best thing since sliced bread and proof that the Android ecosystem was more innovative than Apple.

But…but…but I can buy a bagel with NFC. Really I can!!


Bagel is often used to mean zero.


I’m guessing this means each store will need to provide their own app.  Well, lots of stores do but I never download them.

Will iBeacon support Android and Windows phones? I don’t think stores will be as happy with an iOS-only option as they would with a cross-platform option, which would open the door for third-party hardware manufacturers.  Or perhaps Apple doesn’t intend to sell the hardware anyway, just show how it could work.

Thomas Markel

I wish Apple would support NFC and we had a “Universal NFC” across iOS, Android and Windows Phones.    Are we going towards fragmentation?  Sounds familiar.  Go with open standard please!


Markel: Go with open standard please!

OK, as long as the open standard isn’t crap.

Joe Tavormina

NFC is used in transit systems and credit cards all over the world. You have a NFC chip on you credit card. You can tap and pay with your credit card at gas stations, vending machines, and shops all over the world. When you do this you are using NFC. When you use a transit pass, you are using NFC. The NFC chip does not need a power source, so you can add the chip to a card or anything you need to automate. NFC tags are used to track your medicine. (chip in the label), used in TVs, wireless speakers, headphones,
Even my linksys router uses a NFC card to connect.

The biggest problem i see with ibeacons is that bluetooth needs a power source, (battery). This makes it impractical. To add ibeacons to a medicine bottle label, you would need a power source to power the bluetooth chip and you need to make sure that the battery is kept charged.

To add ibeacons to a credit card or a transit pass, you would need a bluetooth circuit with a battery on the card. You would also need to charge the battery before you use. (bulky and impractical)

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