Apple iBeacon tech lights up CES 2014

It's the same every year at CES: Apple doesn't appear at the show but its shadow looms large. This year's a little different, because Apple's iBeacon support will be part of the event.

Apple iBeacon tech lights up CES 2014

Active versus installed users

CES organizers recognize that while exhibition goers are there to look at non-Apple kit, there's a pretty big chance the most active visitors will be using an Apple device. That's why the show will feature a scavenger hunt using Cupertino's iBeacon tech (which also supports compatible Android phones, where they exist).

People attending this years CES who download the CES Mobile App will be encouraged to explore the show by following the scavenger hunt, gathering virtual badges to win prizes.

Jeff Joseph, senior vice president of communications and strategic relationships at CEA, says:

“This promotion is a fun and novel way to introduce attendees to iBeacon technology and encourage participants to visit important exhibits across the show floor.”

The thing about iBeacon is that this is not a wholly Apple technology. The devices used for the hunt are made by Radius Networks and Texas Instruments.

iBeacons are short range, Bluetooth, low-energy transmitters that can notify mobile devices when they come within 100 feet of the beacon. You'll find these solutions deployed in Apple's retail stores and in future these will be applied within solutions for automatic ticketing, guided museum tours and location-relevant offers and promotions.

Shining path

There's lots of optimism lighting iBeacon.

"This is one of the coolest proximity-aware apps we have worked on,” said Marc Wallace, CEO and cofounder of Radius Networks.

“It is a great example of how iBeacon technology is not just about advertising as it is about bringing new and innovative solutions to the marketplace. We are very excited to be a part of it.”

In the coming months you're going to see a tidal wave of iBeacon deployment at key locations worldwide. That's inevitable because the technology is cheap to deploy and quite secure. Other technologies attempting to deliver similar services remain too complex and expensive.

That's not to say these technologies don't have their champions. Google clearly championed NFC and only recently deployed support for Bluetooth BLE within Android 4.3.

No safe bets

Unfortunately that support isn't complete -- key Bluetooth stacks required by iBeacon are not yet properly supported by Android; nor are they enabled on Samsung's devices (even though Samsung being Samsung it apparently suggests it is enabled within misleading developer documentation.)

"Unfortunately, Bluetooth LE support in Android 4.3 and 4.4 only supports the “central” role, meaning it can act as a device that consumes Bluetooth LE data. The “peripheral” role, which is used by devices being the Bluetooth LE data provider, is not supported. This keeps Android devices from acting as an iBeacon, because iBeacons are nothing more than Bluetooth LE peripheral mode advertisers. And if a device can’t advertise, it can’t act as an iBeacon," writes Radius Networks developer, David G Young.

When Google's Android does eventually catch up to implement proper support for iBeacon, the fragmented nature of the OS means it will be years before all Android users can access iBeacon.

By then iBeacon support on Apple's actively used devices will have spawned a whole new industry, which is what CES is really about. It's important to note that because Apple users actively engage with their devices, the emerging industry will be of actual real-world use.

Also read: Predictions: Apple's 2014 in 8 pictures

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