iBeacon is one of the most talked-about developments in retail-relevant technology. Unfortunately, it is too often overgeneralized or misunderstood. We’re setting the record straight on iBeacon and what it does for merchants.

What is iBeacon?

iBeacon is not a product in the traditional sense. It’s not a physical thing you can buy in a store. Rather, it is Apple’s proprietary set of protocols that outline how iOS mobile devices interact with Bluetooth Low Energy beacons and signals.

iBeacon devices can also act as beacons and send BLE signals to other nearby devices.

How does iBeacon work?

iBeacon allows iOS 7 devices to scan for and detect BLE signals. Much of the value of iBeacon comes from the fact that it automatically identifies incoming signals and then launches apps to which that signal is relevant.

In contrast, non-iOS devices need to have those apps open and running in order to detect and act on BLE signals from nearby beacons. As a result, it is somewhat harder to engage these devices with beacon-based marketing campaigns.

Is iBeacon downloadable?

No. iBeacon is part of the iOS 7 operating system, so it operates natively on the newest generations of iPhone and iPad mobile devices. It is a proprietary technology and is not available for other mobile platforms.

What is the value of iBeacon to retailers?

Because iBeacon allows Apple mobile devices to automatically detect and interpret BLE transmissions, it is easier to engage customers who have iOS 7 devices. Retailers that use BLE beacons to enhance the customer experience, including pushing information about offers and other items, will be able to reach iPhone users regardless of whether those users have their apps open or not.

In order to reach Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry users, retailers have to rely on those users to open their apps. There’s a chance that a BLE-based campaign won’t reach these users because they may forget to open the relevant app.