The history of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) tells us that it likes to develop its own proprietary technology and software, building almost its own world which is entirely separate from everything else in computing. This tendency was even lampooned in a Simpsons episode in which Lisa runs up a hefty bill will the barely-disguised Mapple corporation, and has to travel to their underwater headquarters via a submarine shaped as a USB drive.
Thus, waiting for Apple to embrace other people’s innovations and technology standards can be a rather fruitless task. The company has made it completely clear that it expects to be the standard-bearer in any market it enters into, and frankly it has the track record to support this confidence.
So for years mobile phone enthusiasts, industry analysts and the tech media have speculated about when Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) would embrace Near Field Communication – more commonly referred to as NFC. Articles were written solely addressing the topic of why Apple hadn’t included NFC in any of the iPhones up to now, while even sites such as Geek.com were speculating just a few days ago that the iPhone 6 could finally embrace the technology which enables nearby smartphones to communicate directly with one another.
Apple rules out NFC
But such prognostications look increasingly wide of the mark considering that Apple has already quietly launched its own competitor to NFC, which it evidently intends to include in future devices. Even IT Pro Portal, who had previously promoted the idea that NFC could be part of the iPhone 6’s arsenal, has conceded recently that Near Field Communication is highly unlikely to feature in the next Apple smartphone.
This competitor goes by the name of iBeacon, and has already enabled Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) users to set-up Apple TV via mobile technology; bypassing Apple’s physical remote control. This isn’t technically new technology, as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been building it into its operating systems and devices for a few months now, but it’s only recently that we’re beginning to see the potential of iBeacon and its obvious rivalry with NFC.
No lesser source than The Washington Post has already decreed that iBeacon could “change the world forever”. While there are technical difference between Apple’s technology and NFC, it shares many common principles. Above all else, iBeacon will enable businesses to set up transmitters which will inform smartphones in the vicinity of their presence. One might very well wonder what use this would be, but when further consideration is given it is clear that this could in fact fundamentally change people’s retail experience and lead to a plethora of different possibilities.
For example, if iBeacon becomes an established technology, and is used on a mass basis, then retailers could send text messages, or possibly even voicemail, to customers as they pass a store informing them of special offers or deals, prepare pre-ordered items for collection the minute someone walks through the front door, or even remind customers of items that they purchased previously the next time that they visited. It is easy to see the benefits here for both consumer and retailer.
And there is already precedent for similar technology being used in a wide variety of settings. The New York firm Nomi has already worked with theme parks, concert venues, stadiums, restaurants and car companies using similar technology and set-ups.
Of course, such technology will also intrinsically have privacy implications. The potential for the sort of tracking, collation and distribution of personal data, which has quite rightly been considered a major issue of late, will only rise with such technology being widely distributed. Having said that, iBeacon potentially offers people the opportunity to save money, and retailers to make money, and I’m sure no reader of this article needs to be reminded that money tends to talk in this universe.
Unlike previous Apple tech, this would appear to be an open standard. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been criticized in the past for creating closed ecosystems in order to essentially tie people in to their products. One can’t really blame them for this, but it is rather annoying when they then, for example, remove all disc drives from their latest iMac in an attempt to make you redownload your entire music collection from iTunes, presumably.
However, it seems that with iBeacon Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has real ambitions of creating a proprietary standard. It has probably been recognized that if this technology is going to take off, it needs to be open to competitors’ mobile products as well, and as powerful as Apple is, they are never going to completely dominate the smartphone market given the other massive companies involved.
The format war
The two technologies are very different on the surface: NFC only works at ranges of tens of centimeters, and requires special hardware in the phone to get working. But they both offer a way to link the physical and digital worlds – and there’s probably only room for one. The overwhelming likelihood, as with other format wars such as HD-DVD v Blu-ray and VHS v Betamax, is that there is only room in the ring for either NFC or iBeacon; and the loser will be summarily counted out.
Personally, the absolute last thing I would want is stores SMSing me every thirty seconds to tell me that they’ve got a shoe sale on as I walk past them. If I ever end up in hell, it will be something like this. But apparently some people like that kind of thing…so keep an eye on iBeacon as it clearly has the potential to be massive.