Is An Apple iBeacon Transmitter The Path To Payments?

Pop quiz. How does Apple make money? Selling hardware. Very good. So, is anyone really surprised that it may have its own plans to sell its own iBeacon transmitter? Well, recent filings with the Federal Communications Commission would suggest that is exactly what’s on the roadmap. Could this be the precursor for an Apple retail/payments/combo?

Apple is a hardware company, yet where’s Apple’s own transmitter to support its iBeacon technology? It might just be on its way.

Apple has multiple FCC filings for its own iBeacon product, suggesting the maker of iPhones and iPads has more hardware plans up its sleeve. The transmitting device reportedly would complement the company’s microlocation technology already present in iOS devices.

Apple unveiled iBeacon last fall, a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology included with the launch of its iOS 7 operating system. PayPal earlier launched a similar service called PayPal Beacon to its users to make mobile payments without waving their smartphones.

In March, an Apple update to its iOS 7 operating system reportedly made a big improvement in the iBeacon technology, coupling it with TouchID, Apple’s fingerprint security on the iPhone 5S to make the process more secure and potentially more available in retail stores.

The move to tie hardware to its iBeacon service essentially pits Apple against PayPal Beacon, which includes a plug-in device to support merchant BLE communications with smartphones. Other beacon hardware also is available, including the Estimote Beacon, which Shopkick reportedly used in partnership with Macy’s during last year’s holiday season.

ShopBeacon, based on Apple’s iBeacon technology, allowed retailers to recognize when Shopkick app users entered a Macy’s store. The technology then triggered discounts, deals and rewards messages to appear on the Shopkick app whenever a customer entered the store.

In April, ShopSavvy announced that its AdOns advertising network was enhanced to support iBeacon integration. About 40 percent of the campaigns on ShopSavvy already have a location-based component targeting specific retail locations and specific product searches or categories. The addition of iBeacon integration could further help companies target shoppers with ads that are even more personalized, relevant and immediate to the customer’s interests.

And there’s also Gimbal, which, like iBeacon, is a Bluetooth-based technology that creates proximity-based networks within buildings that communicate with smartphones when they come into range. Its owner, Qualcomm, has put Gimbal into the hands of third-party investors to run as a separate company that caters more exclusively to the needs for retailers.

It remains unknown whether Apple actually will release its own transmitter hardware to support iBeacon. After all, it owns plenty of NFC patents, but it has yet to produce any products that support the contactless technology. The company has tested iBeacon technology in its own stores for online order pickup notifications to customers, and to let on-site customers know of special events.

Theoretically, Apple could incorporate proprietary content exchanges for merchants between its own hardware and iBeacon iOS technology. Apple, after all, likes to keep things in its own house, and tying a transmitter to its iOS devices only seems fit, but it will require lures to capture merchant interest.

MacRumors reports that Apple has registered the transmitter as the “Apple iBeacon,” carrying the model number A1573. Documents Apple filed with the FCC show it tested the technology with Audix Technology, a China-based company, from April 30 through May 13 this year. The publication theorizes Apple could incorporate the hardware into its HomeKit initiative, where iOS devices communicate with home-automation devices.

Indeed, an Apple-made iBeacon transmitter may one day simplify payments and marketing for both merchants and consumers, but it’s best to maintain broad thinking in how the technology ultimately may be used. There’s lots of other things in people’s lives that could done more simply, and the market will have to decide whether opening a garage door is more important right away than getting notified of a discount on pot pies, or whether someone else’s hardware might prove more useful for either purpose.