Among the lesser-touted additions to iOS 7 is iBeacon, a new feature that allows the iPhone (4S and later) to communicate with tiny, cheap Bluetooth LE sensors, enabling all kinds of location-based services. One major application is obviously indoor mapping, which has proven to be a major pain point for smartphones. In terms of accuracy, iBeacon is a massive improvement over traditional methods of monitoring a user's location like GPS — a technology that's too often off the mark when you're inside. Google has launched indoor maps to make tourist attractions and multi-floor destinations like shopping malls easier to explore, and iBeacon represents Apple's answer to the problem. But its potential extends far beyond mapping, opening up new avenues for retailers, museums, and other businesses to reach consumers.
Apple says iBeacon offers 'a whole new level of location awareness'
Since iBeacon is brand new with iOS 7, developers are just now running experiments that make use of it. Major League Baseball is among the early adopters; it gave members of the press a demonstration of iBeacon earlier this week. Touring Citi Field, the iPhone was able to keep precise track of its location with the help of sensors placed throughout the ballpark. This enabled MLB's At Bat app to play videos when visitors were near specific sections of the stadium, and automatically bring up discount coupons when they approached Citi Field's merchandise shop. iBeacon can also monitor how many times you've visited a given location, which could allow retail partners to offer savings to loyal shoppers.
Starbucks, Macy's, and American Airlines are among other companies testing out iBeacon according to CNET. Since the Bluetooth transmitters are an essential part of the technology, it will likely take some time before you walk into your local mall and start receiving automatic location prompts. But Apple is clearly (and very quietly) laying the groundwork for a sophisticated location-based services solution. More nitty gritty details on iBeacon can be found at Apple's developer site, linked below.