One way or another, retail stores are going to start pinging your smartphone with deals and recommendations the moment you walk in the door. Apple's Bluetooth-powered iBeacons have been a leading solution in the young market, Philips debuted its own solution built into a store's overhead lighting system earlier this year, and GE is about to do the same.
Flickers of light communicate with your phoneGE plans to showcase its connected LED lighting system at a conference next week, and it'll work more or less like Philips' lighting does: once installed overhead, it'll be able to detect shoppers' individual positions, keeping them updated with a map of their location within the store and even showing suggestions or deals based on what's in front of them. Lighting manufacturers are hoping options like this will make installing connectivity far easier for retailers, saving them from having to maintain and power separate beacons across a store.
There's one key difference between GE and Philips' lights, however. Both lighting systems are capable of communicating with phones through their cameras, sending data across flickers of light that are imperceptible to humans, but GE's can also use Bluetooth LE, a far more common solution. Using light theoretically provides it more accuracy than Bluetooth alone would, though it's not clear if that's really better enough to warrant keeping a phone's camera running while walking around a store.
While shoppers will have to open up a retailer's app to get that added accuracy, the lights will also be able to ping phones over iBeacon, so stores can send alerts even without their companion app being open. That makes GE's lights far less limited than solutions like Philips' system, which requires an app to be open to connect. Neither lighting system appears to be going on sale just yet, so expect to see more basic iBeacon options for the time being.