As good as GPS is at helping smartphones guide you, the technology isn't very precise and doesn't work reliably indoors.
is trying to improve that with a new iBeacon system, which comes with
last week's iOS 7 software update for iPhones and iPads.
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.
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
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.
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
The beacons will work with the iOS version of At The Ballpark.
Android app won't get the new features initially, but O'Brien said the
4.3 version of Android has a way to use Bluetooth to determine location.
That version came out in July and is in only a few devices, including
Google's Nexus 7 tablet.
Fans can already use either app at
stadiums to upgrade seats, buy copies of songs played over the
loudspeakers and view maps and menus for vendors. A few stadiums even
allow fans to order food and merchandise from seats.
iBeacon could eventually improve those features by letting the vendor
know, for instance, where the fan is sitting without needing to enter
the seat number.
Using iBeacon, MLB's app could also keep track of
visits, even if the fan didn't check in or open the app. That way, it
can extend different types of offers to first timers and regulars.
worried about privacy will be able to turn off location services for
the entire device or for specific features. MLB also plans to offer
additional settings in its app. Officials say the idea is to keep it to
features fans want.
"We want to help out fans," O'Brien said. "We don't want to creep them out."