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On Friday, Apple turned on a new technology called iBeacon in all of its 254 U.S. stores. iBeacon lets Apple assist you as you wander around the store by interacting with your iPhone or iPad.
iBeacon can give you turn-by-turn directions to help you find an item on a shelf, or it can tell you when your order is ready for pickup, or alert you to deals as you walk by them.
iBeacon is one of the new features of iOS 7, and Apple isn't the only one with plans to use it. As the AP's Barbara Ortutay reports:
Major League Baseball already plans to use iBeacon next year to customize fans' experiences at its ballparks, through the At The Ballpark app. In a demo earlier this year, MLB officials showed how the app can offer special features based on users' location in a stadium, such as coupons in the souvenir shop or a video that plays near landmarks.
iBeacon isn't the first "in-store location" technology that retailers have at their disposal. There are apps like ShopKick and NearBuy, among others.
But the reason iBeacon could be a game-changer is because it doesn't require retailers to invest in a lot of specialized equipment. Although special iBeacon devices are available (they can be stashed on store shelves to ensure the whole store is covered with the iBeacon signal), almost any iPhone or iPad with iOS 7 can be used as an iBeacon device.
Many retailers already have iPads. By some estimates, as many as 190 million iOS devices are currently out in the world capable of being iBeacons, reports TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino.
That means this is a ready-made system just waiting for retailers to launch the apps.
The apps won't likely be a problem, either. There are already a truckload of companies out there that provide software for retailers using iPads. Should shop owners show interest, these companies will no doubt add iBeacon to their offerings.
On the downside, iBeacon can't see Android devices. But that won't be a problem for long. Android app developers are working on software that will make Android work with iBeacon. RadiusNetworks has already posted such software to the site that holds software projects, GitHub.
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