Apple Could Make a Killing on This Little-Known Device

Apple has been searching for the next iPhone-like driver of growth. Is this device the answer?

Jul 15, 2014 at 9:45AM

The iPhone is getting stale, or at least, not expected to drive growth as smartphone penetration reaches its peak. Unless consumers start carrying around two iPhones, investors are still waiting for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to come up with the next profit-driving monster.

Many think this might be a role for the rumored iWatch. However, at an estimated selling price at half of an iPhone, around $300, and a consumer interest yet to be confirmed, especially based on sales of early Samsung smartwatches, the iWatch might not live up to expectations.

But, one device that links up with iThings anywhere just might give Apple an iPhone-sized financial boost: an iBeacon transmitter for every home and business.

Ibeacon

iBeacon possibilities. Source: Estimote.com.

iBeacon
Imagine walking past the grocery store and receiving a notification of a sale on your favorite brand of cereal. Or, after sitting at a bar for an hour, receiving a coupon for your next round of drinks. Or, leaving a clothing store and automatically being charged for the items that you ordered to fit. iBeacon can do these things with low-energy Bluetooth technology, or BLE.

As opposed to NFC, which requires a distance of about four inches between devices in order to communicate, iBeacon and BLE can be broadcast up to 150 feet. This makes the possible applications much broader. For example, the NBA has used iBeacon to offer upgraded seats closer to the court to fans in cheaper seats.

Apple-made or licensed
Apple introduced iBeacon in 2013, and recently came out with standards needed to earn consent for use of the trademark. There are many variations of iBeacons that third-party manufacturers have designed, like Estimote's rock-shaped transmitter, or the more utilitarian AIRcable USB dongle.

Estimoteibeacon

Estimote's iBeacon device. Source: Estimote.com.

Usb

AIRcable iBeacon USB dongle. Source: aircable.net.

However, a more Apple-esque design might come from the company. According to FCC filings, Apple has tested an iBeacon transmitter that it would manufacture itself.

Appleibeacon

Diagram from Apple FCC filing. Source: FCC.

How much could Apple make from its own iBeacons?

Apple iBeacon potential
Estimote sells three of their beacons for $99. This means that while the selling price of any Apple-made iBeacon would be low, especially compared to an iPhone, there's a chance for massive volume. Unlike a phone, which a consumer typically buys only one of, or a smartwatch, which the average consumer might have a hard time justifying buying any, the Apple iBeacon could sell many units per customer. And while it seems like businesses would be the first to utilize iBeacons, consumers just might be as keen on the technology as Apple comes out with its home automation software, HomeKit.

If Apple wins the standard in geographic-oriented mobile alerts, the potential benefits would be incalculable. It would strengthen the already strong ecosystem of iOS devices, place multiple Apple devices in one business or home, and strengthen Apple's positioning around payments, where it could take a cut from iBeacon-related purchases.

Apple will need to fight its competitors to win this space, of course. While Google's push with NFC payments seems to have stalled, making up 2% of global payments in 2013 with expections of only 5% in 2017, it has since pivoted to champion similar Bluetooth technology it calls Nearby.

A smartwatch may nudge revenue forward for Apple, but iBeacon holds a revolutionary industry in its radio waves.

One company that will perform well no matter how an iWatch sells
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Dan Newman owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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