Google Wants In on Apple Inc.'s iBeacon Party

Over the past year, Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iBeacon has gained a lot of media attention and developer traction. Quietly introduced at Worldwide Developers Conference 2013, iBeacon's micro-location capabilities have incredible potential in retail and can also help facilitate the Internet of Things. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) wants in on the action.

Android Police reports that Google is preparing to introduce a new "Nearby" feature that replicates some of iBeacon's functionality. When activated, an Android device could automatically turn on its microphone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other functions in order to tap into various Google services based on location.

For all of the same reasons why iBeacon is a big deal, Nearby will be a critical piece of the mobile puzzle. Retailers are looking forward to location-based offers and other opportunities to appeal to iPhone owners, and soon Android may do likewise.

When you add in all the coming wearable technology that's in the pipeline (such as Apple's iWatch or various Android Wear devices) over the next few years, gathering location data will help companies better understand user behavior. Location information will also be useful in creating more seamless experiences between devices, such as Apple's freshly unveiled Continuity feature.

There will also be implications on indoor mapping, where Apple and Google continue to duke it out. Apple's WifiSLAM acquisition last year was all about using Wi-Fi signals to pinpoint smartphone locations indoors. Google is also working on indoor mapping as part of Google Maps, which remains the gold standard in mapping.

Project Tango. Source: Google.

Google's Project Tango is all about sensing environments and 3-D mapping. The search giant showed off a smartphone in February, and announced a new developer tablet just last week. Project Tango devices will be able to create 3-D maps using a variety of sensors that aren't currently common in mobile devices.

Location will also have obvious use cases as the connected home trend continues. As rumored, Apple launched its HomeKit platform for smart appliances throughout the home. Google has no such centralized smart home platform yet, even though it did acquire Nest earlier this year. Samsung has taken the initiative and launched an Android-based smart home platform for a couple of its smart appliances, but a deeper OS-level response from Google would go a long way.

These are all various aspects of how Apple and Google will factor location into their respective platforms. Location will be used in retail, the Internet of Things, wearable devices, and smart homes. Google I/O is now just weeks away, which could potentially be when investors hear more about Nearby. Apple may have borrowed some of Android's tricks in iOS 8, and now it's Google to return the favor.

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Evan Niu

Evan is a Senior Technology Specialist at The Motley Fool. He was previously a Senior Trading Specialist at a major discount broker. Evan graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a CFA charterholder.

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