During my time at Apple, our philosophy was always to look at a map rather than the GPS—metaphorically, I mean. We believed in the importance of seeing the big picture, getting the full lay of the land—which you can’t really do when you’re dialed into step-by-step, turn-by-turn directions.
I’ve been rethinking this, I guess, while watching reports of iBeacon technology roll in. If you don’t know, iBeacon is a small and inexpensive device that connects with consumers’ smartphones when they pass within a few hundred feet of them. If someone is in a store, advertisers can now know exactly where they are; meanwhile, if you’re exploring something like a college campus or a large convention center, you can navigate with ease and precision, using this new geolocation technology to find the exact room or booth you want.
I have to say, as someone who spends a great deal of time at colleges and universities, that there is nothing more frustrating or complicated than trying to find one single room in the midst of a sprawling, multi-facility campus. From that standpoint alone, I’m all about iBeacon technology.
Not everyone is quite as excited about it. A recent Wired article acknowledges that iBeacon is a big breakthrough for advertisers, who can now send you coupons or promotions for a product as you’re standing right in front of it in the store. However, the article speculates that this level of smartphone intrusion may be too, well, creepy for some consumers.
Before we get into the creepiness factor, let’s talk about the perks this technology offers.
The practical uses—uses that have nothing at all to do with advertising—are many. Think about how effective this technology would be on a college campus, alerting new students or campus visitors to important buildings or amenities along their path. Think also of how great this could be at conventions; you can immediately find the place you want to be or the booths you want to see, leaving you with more time to explore and to enjoy serendipitous encounters and interactions. And really, that’s why I think this technology is such a homerun. It allows us to manage our most precious resource: Our time.
By the way, there are safety and security perks, too. What happens when someone has a heart attack in the middle of a crowded mall or a bustling convention center? Now, they’ll be easier to locate than ever, quickly and precisely.
And yes, sure: There are perks for advertisers, who can now send targets ads and promotions to you as you walk through a store or eye a product on the shelf. That brings us to the whole business of potential creepiness.
As far as that goes, I think the level of creepiness here will likely be proportional to the age of the consumers. This may sound simplistic, but when I think about the kinds of personal revelations that young people give out on Facebook and Twitter, I just have a hard time believing that they’ll see this as some kind of major invasion of privacy.
More than that, think about this: When you go into a store, you’re probably there for a reason. You’re probably there to buy something specific. If you’re surveying an item on the shelf and you receive a 50 percent off coupon for that item, just because you happen to be standing close to it—well, what’s the problem? The creepiness, such as it is, is offset by the way this technology dovetails with the consumer experience.
Personally? I think this technology is freeing. I’m proud to know that Apple is the company pushing it forward. I look forward to being able to locate what I need to locate, on campuses and in convention centers, with greater ease—leaving me free to use my time adventuring, connecting, and discovering.