Apple iOS 7.1 Includes iBeacon Update to Benefit Retailers

iPhone owners no longer need to launch an app to receive pushed offers, thanks to an iBeacon update in iOS 7.1.

Among the updates to Apple's iOS 7.1 software are changes to iBeacon, Apple's marketing-driven technology that offers users a more personalized shopping experience, among other things. With the update, the software will look for in-store beacons even when related apps are shut down, reported, after trying out the feature.

While in the past a user had to launch the app, or at least have it running in the background, to receive pushed offers—a 20 percent off coupon on boots, for example, when a user entered a department store or, more specifically, the shoe section.

"Ostensibly this was to ensure that users had an easy way to prevent spam messages or to opt-out of your iBeacon 'experience,'" said the report, referring to the protocol of iOS 7.

"But with iOS 7.1 your application will listen for beacons even if it was hard closed. The user can still opt out by turning off 'location permission' under settings, can turn Bluetooth off, or can delete your app entirely."

The change is a major win for retailers, who don't have to think of clever ways to get iPhone owners to take the extra step of launching the app when they enter a store, or before.

Late last year Apple launched iBeacon technology in 254 of its U.S. retail stores, according to the Associated Press, enabling it to push deals to users on an aisle-to-aisle level and giving visitors a quick way to request in-store assistance.

Retailers including Kenneth Cole and Timberland have also launched micro-location-based pilot programs.

Investment firm Global Equities Research, calling for the ouster of Apple CEO Tim Cook in a March 10 research note, listed among its reasons Apple's "complacency" regarding iBeacon. Qualcomm, said the firm, had jumped on the opportunity, hiring 10,000 developers to create commerce solutions for Qualcomm's Gimbal beacon-based platform and had "beaten Apple in its own game."

The firm quoted one frustrated developer as saying that Qualcomm, with Gimbal, "is eating Apple's lunch."

The Beacon Opportunity

Beacon technology presents an enormous opportunity for retailers, who should be ready themselves, Swirl Networks, a beacon marketing platform, said in a March 12 statement, following a study of 1,000 smartphone owners.

The study found that in-store offers were far more likely to impact customers' buying decisions than email or limited-time offers. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said an in-store offer would "significantly" influence their likelihood to make a purchase, while 80 percent said they'd use a mobile app more often while shopping if it delivered relevant sales and promotional notifications. Additionally, 79 percent of consumers who have received push notifications on their phones over the last six months say they're made at least one purchase as a result.

The majority (77 percent) said they'd be willing to share their location information, as long as they received enough value in return.

When asked what they want most in-store, 80 percent said push notifications about sales or promotions, 78 percent said price-comparison tools, and 58 percent said loyalty program integration.

Among those consumers not keen on the technology, 41 percent said they found it not relevant to their interests or location, 37 percent said it didn't provide enough value and 16 percent found it annoying.

"To get the best return on investment from beacon-based marketing technology," Swirl CEO Hilmi Ozguc said in a statement, "retailers must focus on delivering valuable, highly relevant content in real time."

*The image in this story is from a Swirl infographic on its survey findings.

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