When you strip away the layers behind Apple’s announcement of iBeacon for iOS 7 you find it’s really just their brand name for support of an already existing standard called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Bluetooth Smart. What’s interesting is how quiet they’ve been about the technology so far. Search their website for any mention of iBeacon and all you find is a single trademark claim.
There are a lot of industry experts writing about the announcement, but honestly I think it’s a good thing that Apple is not trying to crank up the hype cycle on the consumer side of things. The technology behind BLE is primed to open up a whole new wave of innovation in device proximity and awareness for close to mid range applications. When it comes to mobile, shopping & advertising are prime use cases. There are also huge opportunities in for disruption in home automation, health and fitness, clean web, gaming, entertainment, travel, and of course mobile payments.
All of this is going to take time though. We’ve been through something very similar with…. wait for it…. NFC. Yes there have been lots and lots of promises about how NFC + mobile was finally ready to take off in the US and it just hasn’t happened. Google has tried with Android, but honestly sometimes it almost feels half -hearted. I think that Apple once again deciding not to support NFC in the latest iPhone and officially placing their bets on BLE means we will never see NFC support in an iPhone.
This brings me to what I think is the biggest development which has occurred in the past few months. It’s not about Apple or Google, it’s about Apple and Google. For a consumer technology to take off it has to work well on both platforms. With Google announcing (perhaps begrudgingly) their support of BLE in all devices running Android 4.3+ we have an established standard for close proximity applications. This is huge. Companies can now begin placing their bets on the next phase of innovation.