Apple, Google, and other tech titans once touted beacons — tiny transmitters that interact with smartphones, wearables, and other nearby gadgets — as the future of retail. However, it hasn’t caught on, according to VentureBeat.
Debuting in 2013, Apple’s iBeacon is an indoor positioning system that the tech giant says is a “a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS devices of their presence.” In Apple retail stores, it can do things such as informing you of promotional discounts.
Apple’s iBeacon works on Low Energy Bluetooth (BLE). It can be used in a store — not just an Apple store — in a way that allows iBeacons to beam you personal notifications of items around you that are on sale. What’s more, it can enable payments at the point of Sale (POS) such that you don’t need to remove your wallet or card to make a payment.
There are applications beyond the retail sector. Imagine iBeacons in a museum giving your information on the exhibit you’re currently looking at.
However, by 2015, only 3% of retailers in the U.S. had implemented beacon technology, and only 16% had plans to implement beacons, reports VentureBeat. So what happened? According to VentureBeats:
App dependence was (and is) a major hurdle. It’s tough to convince customers to download a service they’ve never used, even with the promise of discount.
Power and range limitations pose an additional challenge. Only about 40% of users in North America report using Bluetooth (though it’s worth noting that on most newer devices, Bluetooth interacts passively with BLE beacons), and Bluetooth signals are more easily obstructed by physical objects than Wi-Fi.
There are privacy concerns as “Few in-store apps are explicitly clear about what sort of location and behavioral information they’re collecting, which can include metrics like visits, unique visitors, new visitors, popular paths, repeat visits, retention, and more.”
So is beacon tech such as iBeacons on the way out?
“None of that’s to suggest beacons are entirely dead,” Kyle Wiggers writes for VentureBeat. “Big-name retailers like Walmart, Rite Aid, and Target continue to trial BLE beacon-powered in-store shopping experiences; Google’s providing beacons to retailers in the U.S. and U.K.; and overall annual beacon shipments are expected to hit 565 million units by 2021. But they’re certainly not poised to revolutionize the way we shop, dine, and cheer on our favorite sports teams — at least, not anytime soon.