It’s been over a week since Apple’s high-profile WWDC. In the days leading up to the event, many speculated this would be the year of the iBeacon. After the technology’s surreptitious introduction at last year’s conference, developers and members of the press expected the technology to feature squarely in Apple’s plans for the coming year. And Apple didn’t disappoint. Never before has the future of one technology been as heavily foreshadowed and discussed without actual mention of the technology itself. Indeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook never mentioned the iBeacon by name once within his two hour keynote.
Nevertheless, with the press and developer communities having spent the past week dissecting every announcement out of Cupertino, it is clear that many of the changes to Apple’s mobile operating system – the upcoming features of iOS8 – will have huge implications for the use, adoption, and impact of beacon technology.
Here we break down the most compelling beacon-related features of iOS8. Please add to the list, and join our conversations about the future of beacon tech on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. (Apple iOS8 will be available to consumers in the fall. A beta version is available now for developers with Apple accounts.)
– What’s changing? Location-aware app access to lock screen.
– What does this mean? The folks over at AppleInsider report that with iOS8, Apple is allowing “unobtrusive push notifications to show up on an iPhone or iPad’s lock screen,” for the purposes of recommending apps based on location. As the writers noticed in tests, approaching both Apple and Starbucks stores in New York launched in each case a small transparent app icon in the bottom left corner of the lock screen (an Apple Store app and Starbucks app respectively.) They speculate that swiping up on these app suggestion notifications will either open the app – if it’s one you have on your device already – or direct you to the App Store to download – if it’s one you don’t yet own. Meanwhile, consumers will maintain control over when these pushes will show up onscreen. In the case of the Apple Store, iOS 8 users can elect to allow location access “Never,” “While Using the App” and “Always.” Alternatively, users can opt out the first time an app is opened.
– And what does this mean for beacons? This functionality will make the process of proximity-aware app and content pushes more passive and more discovery oriented – greatly increasing the chances of a retailer’s app being discovered. Since beacons within an event space or retail setting can only interact with consumers who have the retailer’s app downloaded on their device, this iOS8 update means beacon technology in any setting has the potential for much greater reach and client ROI.
(The system was less flexible in iOS7, as users had the option to receive notifications via alert screens, or nothing at all.)
– What’s changing? Even more features for retailer app discovery.
– What does this mean? Over at Internet Retailer, Bill Siwicki writes that the many new options enabling discovery – and downloads – of retailer iOS apps include ‘trending searches’ in the App Store, video previews of apps, and a new app-bundling feature (that offers brands with multiple apps the ability to offer them together for promotional pricing, and user convenience and utility). The App Store will apparently also feature an Editor’s Choice tag for apps that meet quality guidelines.
– And what does this mean for beacons? All of these features should greatly accelerate the creation, discovery, and adoption of retailers’ apps, which in turn will increase the economic and functional viability of beacon deployments in the retail space and elsewhere.
– What’s changing? More stuff for app optimization.
– What does this mean? Apple will start offering its recently acquired TestFlight, a public beta testing service, for free. The service offers developers the ability to open up their apps to early adopters to get feedback on both bugs and UX. So too, Apple’s WWDC announcement of its new programming language, Swift, should offer brands new incentive to build apps, as the language is expected to make app building cheaper and easier.
– And what does this mean for beacons? Beacons rely on retailers’ and event hosts’ apps for customer interaction and data acquisition. Better, more user-friendly and engaging apps – and more of them – will greatly expand the market for beacons and improve the quality of the experiences they deliver. As Ryan McLaughlin, chief strategy officer at Tribal Worldwide predicts, “More brands will develop apps in the next year or two than we’ve ever seen before.”
– What’s changing? With iOS8 retailers can build true one-touch checkout into their iOS apps.
– What does this mean? Apple is finally opening up the company’s Touch ID biometric fingerprint scanner to developers. As Internet Retailer’s Bill Siwicki writes, “Now, retailers can build true one-touch checkout into their iOS apps. A retailer would associate a consumer’s default shipping and payment information with that consumer’s fingerprint. One touch of a Buy Now button and checkout is over before it started.”
– And what does this mean for beacons? With POS integration, beacons become even more essential to the creation of a streamlined, convenient in-store experience. One-touch checkout rids the mobile checkout process of the friction of typing in the requisite payment information to complete a purchase, and allows customers to avoid long, conversion-killing in-store lines to pay or checkout.
– What’s changing? Expansion of the ways in which a consumer with an Apple device can send and receive messages, particularly through Apple’s iMessage platform and push notification system.
– What does this mean? In addition to the location-aware app access to lock screen feature described above, Apple has also made changes to other ways in which apps can deliver notifications and content to their users, now in more passive, thoughtful ways. ‘Interactive Notifications,’ for one, will allow messages to appear to users engaged in other activities on their phones. ‘Actionable Notifications,’ meanwhile, banners that appear at the top of an iPhone or iPad, will now allow users to complete small tasks – within the notification itself – or get app benefits, without actually launching the app. Dan LaCivita of digital creative agency Firstborn believes brands will find a lot of use for this function. “If the balance is getting low on a user’s Starbucks app,” for example, he writes, “a single tap within the notification banner could add $20 without switching from that email they were in the middle of writing.”
In addition, Apple has provided, with iOS8, third-party app makers the opportunity to develop widgets that will appear in the Notification Centers. The changes allow developers to offer users the ability to interact with a small, timely, contextually relevant part of their apps — “say, the latest sports scores or nearby store locations,” suggests LaCivita — as part of otherwise primary interactions with their Apple device.
– And what does this mean for beacons? A predominant fear of marketers and retailers interested in, and using, beacon technology is that of being too interruptive with their messaging. Indeed, beacon providers and evangelizers of the technology caution tempered, contextual messaging, lest users delete the app and/or disavow the brand. These new notification features can all serve content – ambiently via beacons – that users can easily interact with or ignore. So too, the ability of apps to now offer greater contextual utility to their users, and thus greater potential for engagement, gives iOS8 apps more of a fighting chance of being used (it’s estimated that 70% of users don’t use a retailer’s mobile app after 3 months from downloading it). Greater app traction, in turn, widens the reach of beacon technology, and its ability to improve users’ interactions with brands and increase the beacon deployer’s return on investment.
– What’s changing? Rise of the alpha-apps.
– What does this mean? Until now, apps on your phone have operated in silos. This method is highly inefficient. As the writers at FastCoDesign describe it: “Walled off from every other app, you have to open Google Maps to find restaurants in your area, then you have to open up Yelp to search its reviews, and then you have to load Safari to search what Kow Soy is because everybody on Yelp says you just have to order it.” With Apple’s latest iteration of its operating system comes a new feature called Extensions, which allows the user to use apps within apps, without having to switch back and forth between the handful of apps that power our lives.
– And what does this mean for beacons? Unclear. This quasi hierarchical bundling of apps could have an impact on the number of apps a user needs to download or use in order to interact with beacons across their physical environment. This could increase the reach of any one retailer or event host who has deployed beacons within their spaces, or conversely, present beacon deployers with greater challenges to reaching their users through their dedicated app. And although Extensions feature so far only in Apple’s OS, the writers at FastCoDesign emphasize that because Apple is so influential in the app space, Extensions will soon be a hallmark of apps across all mobile platforms. This apps-within-app model means most of us will begin to use just a few apps on our phone. The impact for app developers will be profound, and it will be exciting to see how the rise of these so-called alpha-apps will be leveraged by beacon companies and marketers alike.
– What’s changing? Wi-Fi scanning behavior changing to use randomly, locally administered MAC addresses.
– What does this mean? When an iPhone scans for nearby Wi-Fi it transmits its unique MAC address as part of the search. Many of our location analytics competitors use Wi-Fi tracking to watch for MAC addresses, which allow them to locate devices and infer information about their owners in a retail setting. Now with iOS8, when a phone is scanning for nearby Wi-Fi access points it will use a random MAC address rather than announce the device’s permanent address. This means companies will no longer be possible to passively track Apple’s devices by their MAC addresses as they move throughout a store.
– And what does this mean for beacons? Disabling the ability for third-party companies to track devices using MAC addresses ensures the only way to track devices indoors will be by using beacons. This is major.
Conclusion: For never mentioning ibeacons directly, WWDC14 offered a bounty of upcoming changes to Apple’s OS that will have an indelible impact on the future of beacons. Beacon-expert Doug Thompson concludes Apple “didn’t just tweak a few iBeacon settings or add a few new classes to play with. Instead, they advanced a paradigm for computing that will change the Apple user experience forever.”
Although ibeacons weren’t mentioned on stage, “…Apple went further. …The undercurrent to what Apple revealed about its vision for the future was imbued with beacons. And for a simple reason:
If beacons allowed our phones and tablets to see the world around them in a new and profound way, Apple [with its announcements too of HomeKit, HealthKit, and MapKit] has just launched a new philosophy and approach for the purpose of computing: to connect it to the physical world.” He continues, “The new battle is to see who wins in the digitization of physical reality. And it’s a battle built around beacons… A monumental move towards devices that are more connected, more aware, and increasingly powered by iBeacon and Bluetooth LE technology.”
We couldn’t agree more. Beacons, and the context-rich, tightly-integrated physical environments they enable, can now take center stage. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 1 (800)-558-2556 to get started!
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