Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Will Apple’s iBeacon Spell the End of NFC? 

Already retailers have tapped into the bluetooth and WiFi capabilities of many smartphones to learn more about shoppers’ behavior as they travel through stores and shopping malls. But with Apple’s iBeacon entering the game, what does this mean for retail?

iBeacon is based on the same Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth Smart technology that is already used to track consumer traffic patterns within brick-and-mortar stores, and will be a competitor to the near-field communications (NFC) technology that’s used by companies such as Google.

Given the popularity of the iPhone combined with the backwards compatibility of Apple’s iOS, iBeacon is expected to come to every iPhone model following the 4s, which will encompass 95 percent of Apple users and possibly give Google a run for its money.

The feature will work within any stores containing BLE-enabled devices, or beacons, that are designed to detect it. The beacons can then act to turn on lights, open doors, push pop-up coupons to an iPhone, or track your movement throughout the store. Currently, a set of three early beacon models is estimated to cost as little as $99.

While Apple enthusiasts may not get excited about in-store tracking or coupons, what may turn their heads is iBeacon’s potential to be used as a contact-free payment system.

Rather than walking up to a register, shoppers can use their iPhone as an electronic cash register that can scan items and pay for them in only a couple of clicks. And for those with Apple’s Touch ID, you could also verify payment using your fingerprint. Or, you could potentially even purchase an item before you walk into the store and simply pick it up at the customer service counter, effectively redefining the self-checkout system that we’ve grown accustomed to.

And Paypal has already jumped on board with the launch of Paypal Beacon and a mobile in-store API in early September.

But for many retailers that acknowledge that their physical stores are falling behind e-commerce, the technology has a lot more in store than merely boosting customer convenience. If iBeacon manages to catch on, it opens the door for more retailers to bring mobile commerce to their own stores, particularly when you consider the beacons’ price.

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