By Jim Karpen on Mon, 02/17/2014
Major League Baseball announced on Friday that installation of iBeacon transmitters in two stadiums has now been completed as part of a project to install the technology in over 20 ballparks by the start of the season in late March. Some 65 iBeacon transmitters were installed in Dodger Stadium and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. So what will it do for you? You'll need to load the MLB.com At the Ballpark app (free) on your iPhone or iPad, and then as you approach specific locations within the park, you'll receive messages on your device. Typically you'll receive offers for discounts at nearby concessions. Also, some parks are planning to use the technology to help guide you to your seat. And some will likely use it to offer information about points of interest within the ballpark. For example, a demo of the technology last fall at Citi Field, home of the Mets, used iBeacon to offer fans digital coupons as they entered the team's store. The demo also brought up an informational video when walking near the giant Apple in the stadium. Different parks will use it for different purposes.
As you may know by now, an iBeacon transmitter uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to sense when your iOS device is nearby and then sends designated information. BLE works over a short range, typically not more than 160 feet. Called "micro-location awareness," this technology can locate you much more precisely than GPS. It can detect ranges as short as two inches. The advantage of low energy is that your Bluetooth can be alert and waiting, and can communicate with the transmitter, while using very little energy—and thereby saving your battery. BLE was included in iOS 7, and your device itself can act as a transmitter.
Obviously iBeacon has much potential. Apple has already put transmitters in many of its Apple Stores in the U.S., such that you receive specific information in your Apple Store app when you approach particular displays. Approach the iPhone display, for example, and it tells you how long you have on your contract before you can get a new iPhone.
One can imagine uses such as museums, or even dating apps. Your phone could alert you when a prospective partner is nearby. Many, however, are expecting that Apple will make use of iBeacon in creating a mobile payment system. A fascinating article on Computerworld describes an Apple demo of how this might work if you were intent on buying some donuts. "According to Apple, you could order donuts before you stepped foot into Jay's Donut Shop. Upon your arrival, your iPhone would display a QR code that a clerk could scan to verify that you're really you and not a would-be donut thief. Your donuts would already be bagged, and the receipt would be in your phone." The article gives a variety of scenarios in which iBeacons could be used, from opening secure doors as authorized people pass to self-service checkout.
An interesting post on 9To5Mac discusses whether iBeacon alerts will simply be more spam, more messages inviting you to purchase, or whether they will have value added, and gives examples of each.