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The rise of iBeacons, and fall of friction

An iBeacon is shown on a wall. These sensors should lead to helpful information automatically appearing on your smartphone based on your exact location, provided you have downloaded the corresponding app. (Estimote)

Estimote CEO Jakub Krzych has a cab problem.

“I forget to pay,” Krzych explains. “I’m so attached to the Uber experience.” While Uber allows riders to hop out at the end of ride and be automatically charged, cabs still require the handing over of cash or swiping of a credit card. He’s stuck in a world of friction, in which unnecessary steps make parts of life more of a hassle and time-consuming then they should be.

Krzych envisions the Uber-ization of everything as friction disappears. His start-up is betting that iBeacons will simplify the brick-and-mortar retail and airport experience, and then much more. He says the economic impact will be in the trillions.

“There’s a huge, huge opportunity in this physical world around us that is not that efficient and connected,” Krzych said. Estimote sells iBeacons that communicate with smartphone apps to provide relevant, contextual information. These sensors can detect when a smartphone is within inches, thanks to the latest Bluetooth technology.

One example of Uber-ization Krzych foresees is at a gas station. Forget the steps of swiping a credit card, entering your billing zip code and telling the machine if you want a receipt. An iBeacon could realize you’re standing within inches of a given pump and send your phone a notification that you’re being charged a given amount for your gas.

Or take for example, the airport experience. “It’s really ridiculous the process for the airport,” Krzych said. “It’s very similar to how it was for 50 or more years.”

He envisions walking into an airport with a ticket downloaded on an iPhone’s Passbook. iBeacon sensors in the terminal would recognize you and direct you toward security.

“When you approach the security officer, he or she can see info about your profile on iPads or screens and know you’re a frequent traveler. Maybe this somehow improves security process,” Krzych said.

Then it’s off to the gate. As you walk past the duty-free area you get a message. “You have 30 minutes to take off. Why don’t you buy this new product we have a few meters away,” Krzych said.

He envisions stores where you never go to a cash register, wait in line, sign a receipt, swipe a credit card or check out with a store employee. You walk out with what you want and are charged.

“There’s no reason to pay with a credit card anymore because your phone can authenticate you,” Krzych said. “You just take a coffee and then there will be a notification on your screen, ‘Do you want to pay $5 for this latte.’ And that’s all.”

The seamless experience iBeacons can offer are why Krzych is so optimistic. “People have been trying to solve these airport and retail problems for years in [near field communication.] It’s too much friction trying to scan a QR code. That’s not the experience for our mom or kids. This should just work immediately.”

Estimote is currently working with brick-and-mortar retailers and airports to implement iBeacons. Krzych couldn’t discuss specific partnerships.  But he says you can expect to see plenty of iBeacons appearing in your everyday world later this year.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.



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Matt McFarland · February 11, 2014

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