As good as GPS is at helping smartphones guide you, the technology isn't very precise and doesn't work reliably indoors. Apple is trying to improve that with a new iBeacon system, which comes with last week's iOS 7 software update for iPhones and iPads.
Better location information will improve a range of features, including recommendations based on what's popular nearby. It will also enable ads and coupons from nearby retailers and potentially allow mobile ordering and other transactions.
The technology also promises to work better indoors, particularly in multi-story environments such as shopping malls and stadium concourses.
Major League Baseball showcased some of iBeacon's potential Thursday in front of about a half-dozen journalists at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. MLB's free At The Ballpark app can customize fans' experience from the moment they get off the subway or out of their cars.
For instance, MLB officials showed how its app can offer bonus features such as video when fans are within a few feet of landmarks. The stadium map is customized based on the entrance used and the fan's seat, and a coupon pops up the moment the fan walks into a souvenir shop.
Phones can do some of this now, but not as well.
Eric O'Brien, director of wireless product development for baseball's interactive business, MLB Advanced Media, said the new technology is precise enough to deliver coupons right at the door, not 10 feet past the store.
He said GPS technology can be a half-mile or so off at times, and supplemental location technology such as cellular and Wi-Fi signals are more complicated to configure. With iBeacon, a handful of sensors are placed around the stadium to enable specific functions.
So far, Apple has said little publicly about iBeacon, other than that it uses a low-energy variant of Bluetooth wireless technology to pick up data from sensors, or beacons. Apple recently released technical specifications for software developers such as MLB to incorporate the technology into apps.
MLB officials temporarily installed several beacons around Citi Field for Thursday's demonstration. It plans to use the technology more extensively next season. Each ball club is expected to adopt its own set of features based on its fan base and stadium configuration. (continued...)
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