Apple announced that iBeacon will now be part of its MFi program, meaning that all of the low-energy Bluetooth transmitters made for iBeacon will have to sport "Made for iPhone" branding. Although, Apple's move doesn't shut out other operating systems from receiving alerts from the iBeacon system in retail stores, it does increase Apple's control over the new technology.
Manufacturers of iBeacon transmitters will now have to register with the NDA and sign up for Apple's MFi program, in order to market their devices as iBeacon transmitters, complete with the appropriate trademark. The devices will then be installed in stores and send low-level Bluetooth signals out to shoppers, no matter what operating system their smartphone is running.
So far, retailers have been leery of iBeacon because of the high cost of installing transmitters throughout their stores, which may or may not function on all customers' smartphones. However, just because Apple wants third-party manufacturers of iBeacon transmitters to say that they are "Made for iPhone," that doesn't mean that your Android or Windows Phone won't pick up the Bluetooth signal, too, and alert you to a new promotion at the store.
Now that this particular fear has been allayed, more retailers might consider installing iBeacon transmitters in their stores. If so, we're in for a retail revolution. Apple has already displayed iBeacon in some of its stores, using it to guide users to products and informing them about promotions, reviews and accessories for the device they are interested in. All in all, it's pretty interesting technology and it really can add value to your shopping experience, especially if you're looking into a more expensive purchase and want to see reviews of the product.
The augmented reality shopping experience is something that other tech companies like Qualcomm have been very interested in for a long time. Qualcomm's Gimbal, which is compatible with iBeacon and is actually used by Apple in its retail stores, will certainly benefit if iBeacon goes mainstream. Back in 2012, Qualcomm showed off a demo of how augmented reality could work in a retail setting with an American Apparel demo. Now it seems the technology is catching on.
iBeacon is essentially Apple's alternative to NFC-based advertising and is perhaps more effective, simply because it is more interactive. It also actively draws the user in, while NFC ads require users to initiate contact before anything happens on their devices. It is unknown whether iBeacon will even truly gain widespread support from retailers, but it is certain that the shopping experience has already changed and will only continue to do so.