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Apple?s iBeacon hardware plan seen expanding retailers? reach

The Cupertino, CA-based company said in a Federal Communications Commission filing that it tested the product jointly with China?s Audix Technology over 14 days from April to May. Up to now, only third parties have offered iBeacon-powered hardware. The development underscores iBeacon?s growing prominence due to its potential to reach a vast audience in numerous sectors.

?It?s a great coup for mobile marketers if Apple can make this technology more mainstream for not just large retailers but across verticals,? said Sheryl Kingstone, research director for Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. ?It could ease the friction to adoption.

?It?s irrelevant who makes the device,? she said. ?There are many third-party manufacturers. The real importance is what businesses can do with the low-power, low-cost transmitter that enables a more immersive communication experience across many industries, not just retail.? 

The iBeacon is a portable, low-cost transmitter that alerts iOS 7 devices of its presence. With its ability to send push notifications to Apple iPhones, iPads and iPods, the technology has created opportunities for a range of businesses to interact with customers in-store.

Connected homes
It was not clear from the filing how the new hardware could be marketed.

It could replace the third-party products or be sold directly to retailers. It also could be used in Apple?s rumored plan to create products for connected homes, fitting with the company?s unveiling at its recent developers conference of HomeKit software for iOS 8 that integrates monitoring and control of lights and appliances.

If iBeacon were to become available to the gamut of businesses, allowing companies to have multiple touch points with customers, the impact could be felt across global supply chains. The hardware also could have a big impact on what is seen as the next big battlefield for mobile dominance ? the in-store shopper. 

Despite the growth in ecommerce, a very significant portion of consumers? shopping-related time and money is still spent inside physical stores. At the same, mobile?s role in that experience is growing.

With the growing availability of Wi-Fi in stores, stadiums, airports, malls and other public spaces, there is a significant and still-growing opportunity to reach mobile users inside these venues with contextually relevant communications, mobile search and indoor maps. 

Then there are the retail services such as mobile point-of-sale, in-stock information and same-day delivery services.

For technology companies able to insert themselves in a meaningful way into this scenario, the payoff is likely to be significant.

Apple retail services
Apple has also been building up its retail services. Mobile POS was an early example, followed by Passbook and, more recently, iBeacon. 

Eighty-four percent of businesses are interested in mobile proactive communications, according to Yankee Group?s Ms. Kingstone.

iBeacon undergirds Mall Maverick's shopping center mobile-notification service.

?iBeacon solutions can help businesses gather contextual information such as an individual user?s location, but it?s also important to track stated preferences, behavior and social interaction,? she said. ?By capturing this data, businesses can gain analytical insight while delivering a customized experience."

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.