Using smartphones to virtually shop isn’t a new idea, but Apple is bridging the digital experience with real-world retail through its iBeacon service. Starting today, those using the Apple Store app while shopping will get messages, notifications and alerts catered to their particular shopping needs.
The service, which Apple announced alongside iOS 7, will roll out to Apple’s 254 retail locations across the United States. Provided you give the app permission to do so, iBeacon tracks your iPhone as you're shopping to send tailored messages depending on where you are within the store. The service uses low-energy Bluetooth transmissions to broadcast a user's location indoors, allowing the app to pinpoint whether you're browsing through iPhone accessories or playing with a MacBook Air.
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For example, if you’re standing by the iPhone table, the app may prompt you with a message asking if you’d like to upgrade. The service could also send you an alert to tell you when you’re device is eligible for an upgrade. iBeacon could also be used to notify you if a computer or device you ordered is ready to be picked up. Simply show this screen to an Apple employee, and the clerk can grab it from the back for you.
Nearly 20 iBeacon transmitters have been turned on at Apple’s flagship New York City location at Fifth Ave., according to the AP. Some of these devices are actual Bluetooth transmitters, while other signals are generated by iPads within the store. Each iBeacon is fixated at different distances to send alerts based on your precise location. Such accuracy isn’t possible with GPS, which doesn’t offer as efficient location tracking indoors.
This isn’t the first time major retailers have used smartphones to reach their patrons. Last month, Macy’s began tracking its customer’s iPhones through the Shopkick app to send shoppers in-store deals and notifications.