Tim Cook has been blamed for not producing a steady stream of innovations for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) over the last two years but there is at least one new product that he should be getting credit for: iBeacon. While people seem to have been focused on the war between Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) Android operating system and iOS, this product seems to be flying under the radar. While there hasn't been a revolutionary Apple TV or recent computing paradigm shift, Apple has quietly released a tool that may lead to dramatic social innovations. Is iBeacon Apple's next great idea?
Google has been a dramatic innovator as it grew from a search engine into a video service, then moving into mobile operating systems and mobile applications like maps. The Google guys have covered a lot of ground while Apple was in transition. Google even got into shopping via its online service. However, it has ignored bricks and mortar. When you get under the covers of iBeacon, it's really a very powerful tool that can draw developers to iOS. Initially iBeacon may seem like a product that allows faceless companies to track you like big brother as you walk through their stores. But if you keep your mind open to the possibilities, the same framework could be benevolent instead of Orwellian.
Mobile to Mortar isn't always creepy
Consider the convenience of walking into a grocery store and the shopping list on your phone triggers a personalized map showing the shelf locations of your items. You go from the supermarket to the pub to watch March Madness, and when you're ready to leave, you pay with your phone because the waitress is busy. Then, as you approach your car, the doors automatically unlock. This is the same back-end technology, but more friendly.
Proximity vs location
One new development is that beacons are based on proximity, not location. Since the technology doesn't need to find your longitude and latitude, just how close to an object you are, it can work indoors.
You might have experienced using an audio tour at a museum but then layer on security and bidirectional communication. iBeacon is a product that opens the door to system development, which could make our lives easier while increasing brand loyalty.
Some non-commerce examples include the Grand Rapids public museum setting up an electronic scavenger hunt, where students are prompted to answer questions about different displays. This is making the exhibits more engaging than having students simply wander through the facility.
This Friday, New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art will open an exhibit in conjunction with the United Nations that creates a virtual minefield. As museum attendees are challenged to make their way through an exhibit hall without triggering any mines. This exhibit was intended to bring awareness about an issue that affects many third world countries.
Applications will drive adoption
While the upcoming release of the iPhone 6 is likely to be considered the center point for near term innovation, it is a device that we expect to evolve. The technologies that drastically change our lives are often the ones sitting behind the scenes. Many times they are only discovered after a software layer is added to get the technology from being a toolkit to a product.
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