4 Reasons Why Apple’s iBeacon Is About to Disrupt Interaction Design

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1. Tying Digital Content to the Physical World

The most obvious application for iBeacon is tying digital information to physical places. When Apple first presented iBeacon to developers at their WWDC conference this summer, they used the example of an art museum. Instead of punching a three-digit number into a handheld tour guide, you could walk up to a painting, pull out your iPhone, and find additional information on the artwork right there waiting for you.

All the triangulating happens constantly and quietly in the background. The potential for location-based content is huge, and it could take many forms.

2. Seamless Setup for All Your Gadgets

Giving devices real world awareness doesn’t just herald new interactions. It could be used to smooth out old ones, too. Why type in a password when your person will suffice? Apple’s already using the latest version of Bluetooth to eliminate one of the most singularly frustrating experiences in consumer technology today: typing in a Wi-Fi password with the Apple TV’s finicky remote. The latest Apple TV software brought a fantastically clever workaround. You just tap your iPhone to the Apple TV itself, and it passes your Wi-Fi and iTunes credentials over and sets everything up instantaneously.

This admittedly is a narrow inconvenience, but the idea here is an important one. Using physical proximity to intelligently pass data between devices will make our lives easier in innumerable ways. In combination with new types of authentication like TouchID, constant device-to-device chatter is a vital step towards a future where your digital identity—all yours accounts, services, files and preferences—are tied inextricably to you, instead of being scattered around the cloud, hidden behind myriad logins.

That could mean something as simple as your car adjusting the seat and mirrors depending on whether you, your spouse, or your kid plunks down in the drivers seat. But it could be far more complex. Imagine this: You sit down at any computer in the world, put your thumb on your iPhone’s fingerprint reader, and instantly that computer becomes your machine. Your desktop, your settings, your files. It’s like Dropbox turned up to eleven. It’s also something for which Apple holds a patent.

3. Retail 2.0

So far, the most frenzied activity surrounding iBeacon has been in the world of retail, where there’s potential for shops big and small. At one end, you have big name retailers who are eager to push retail into the future with highly tailored digital experiences.

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The other area of activity here is in payments. Paypal’s already showing off its own “Beacon,” a USB device that will interface with the Paypal app to let users make totally hands-free transactions. The problem of digital wallets is a tricky one, but the technology is finally starting to make sense. Three years ago, the future of digital wallets rested entirely with NFC. Today it seems like Bluetooth is the one poised to finally bring mobile payments to the mainstream.

4. A New Level of Peer-to-Peer Smarts

More exciting than turbocharged coupons, however, are the new types of applications that Bluetooth LE could engender. Apps have long had access to location data via GPS, but pinging satellites is a big drain on precious battery life. Just consider how quickly your charge evaporates when you’re using Google Maps. iBeacon gives applications a new way to orient themselves in the real world, continuously, without evaporating your charge (new geofencing APIs give apps other new, battery-friendly ways to track).

When you combine this with the fact that every recent iPhone—and many new Android devices—can function as iBeacons themselves, you can envision all sorts of exciting peer-to-peer interactions.

NFC wurde seinerzeit ähnlich disruptive Kräfte vorausgesagt. Bis heute haben sie nicht gewirkt. Mit iBeacons vulgo Bluetooth LE könnte das anders werden. Schon alleine deshalb, weil es da draußen über 200 Millionen Smartphones gibt die diese Technologie von Haus aus unterstützen. Den Begriff iBeacons sollte man sich schon mal merken.