Game over for NFC as Apple's iBeacon hits world's busiest retail store

NFC is finished. It was a dream that failed.  Any hope its champions may once have held ended today when Apple switched on iBeacons solutions across its insanely busy US retail stores.

Game over for NFC as Apple iBeacons hit world's busiest retail stores

Big dreams, big stores

These are among the most profitable stores in the world with over 400 million visitors each year:

"We welcomed almost 400 million visitors to our retail stores and opened or remodeled 49 new stores and for the second year in a row we produced over $50 million in revenue per store," said CEO, Tim Cook, during the recent financial announcement.

400 million people is a lot of mind-share meaning Apple has a chance to persuade millions to use this kind of technology.

How it works:

  • When you walk into a store you can choose to receive notifications (messages and discount offers). You can do things like:
  • Collect online orders
  • See what's happening in-store
  • Read product reviews and buy accessories

In future it seems likely you'll be able to do other things, such as

  • Check stock availability
  • Purchase goods for collection after visiting the store
  • Receive notifications of products and offers that match your purchasing taste
  • And pay for stuff.

This isn't just about sales, of course. Apple said iBeacon provides apps with "a whole new level of micro-location awareness, such as trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum, or product displays in stores." You'll see solutions implementing this in museums, at festivals, in bars.

Trust counts

There's also an advantage in that iBeacons comes from a brand people already trust, rather than some weirdly-named marketing firm. That's a big advantage as so many surveys suggest NFC hasn't achieved trust or traction with most consumers.

That's not to say NFC is completely finished, just that Apple's alternate universe now offers a more effective solution -- even for payments. In time, it's logical to expect iBeacons will support payments as Touch ID and iCloud Keychain become ever more robust.

Apple hasn't had to reinvent the wheel when it comes to payment processing technology: You'll pay for things using your existing payment/credit cards, but through an Apple device, like making an iTunes purchase. You can already purchase accessories using iBeacons in Apple retail stores.

iBeacons' big advantage over NFC is its longer range and relative affordability. As Apple makes iBeacon masts available to retailers, it's a no-brainer other big brands will implement support within their existing (and already profitable) branded apps and stores. This will enable them to market goods and services in a consensual way to customers. MLB has already announced it will use iBeacons to help sports fans attending the game.

Customers who count

It's also worth considering the demographics of Apple's customers, who tend to be more affluent. Now, I may abhor the implied class/economic bias of this, but what it means to marketing types is pure honey: Apple seems set to offer a cheap-to-deploy and effective sales, payments and marketing system that aims straight for the most valuable audience retailers want to speak with: people with money.

With this in mind it's nothing but logical to imagine iBeacons tech rapidly being put into place at retailers worldwide.

The only people who'll suffer as this happens are those who have pinned their hopes on NFC. That technology may be available and already widely deployed, but most people don't, or won't, use it.

Apple's move to deploy these solutions on the high street means NFC has been beaten at its own game.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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