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Apple's iBeacon gets fun

Mike Elgan | June 9, 2014
Apple's iBeacon location technology used to be ignored or used on boring retail applications. Now it's showing up in consumer apps and being deployed in increasingly fun places.

Also: There's no evidence that the NSA has ever used iBeacon to track anyone.

Where iBeacon is popping up

Apple's iBeacon has from the beginning been associated with boring retail implementations, and those are totally unseen because shoppers aren't in the habit of running an app while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. But now iBeacon systems are showing up in more fun and interesting places.

One of those places is Starbucks. During the keynote of its Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Apple promoted a new iBeacon feature in iOS 8 that allows the Starbucks app to reveal itself on the lock screen when your phone detects an iBeacon installed at a participating Starbucks. If you have the app, swiping it up launches it. If you don't have the app, the swipe gesture takes you to the app store to download it. Apple is also using the feature for its Apple retail store app.

Pebble just added iBeacon support in its Pebble smartwatch. (Current users can download the new firmware, Version 2.2.) The watch uses iBeacon to detect how close a Pebble is to an iPhone. So you can use your Pebble smartwatch to find your phone.

A dating app called Mingleton enables people in a bar to strike up chat conversations without knowing who they're chatting with. If they decide to meet, the app uses iBeacon to home in on the other interested party, like radar.

Home automation systems are also using iBeacon technology. An app called Launch Here lets you place beacons around your house. When you approach a beacon, the app launches other apps on your phone. For example, when you plunk down on the couch in front of the TV, a TV remote app can launch. A beacon on the fridge can trigger a shopping list app when you approach it.

A new app called BeHere enables classroom attendance to be taken automatically. The app also lets students press a button on their phones instead of raising their hands to request help from the teacher.

Virgin Atlantic installed iBeacons in the "Upper Class" section of its terminal at London's Heathrow Airport. The beacon triggers the Virgin app to automatically display a boarding pass as passengers approach the gate.

Finally, you can download and install free iOS and Android apps that enable you to interact with iBeacons. Both apps are from a company called Radius Networks.

An app called Locate for iBeacon is an iOS app that tells your iPhone or iPad to transmit as an iBeacon. You can configure the identifiers. The app also lets you find iBeacons and get real-time distance estimates, plus it shows you the iBeacons' identifiers. It's a great way to learn about iBeacon.


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