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Payments, NFC and iBeacons - maybe!

In June we blogged about the possibility that Apple would launch a payments platform. However, with Apple, we’ve come to understand that you don’t often get what you wish for - well, not immediately!

The June 2nd event was never likely to produce a major platform announcement. For those that follow Apple closely, they employ a strict product news / product launch / product update, cycle. 

The June event fell into the latter category. But what about 9.9.14?

Here’s what we know… Apple usually launches iPhones around now. In the last few weeks, the number of ‘leaked’ iPhone photos has increased and the IDK forums have burst back into life. There’s nothing unusual here.

However, we’ve been excited by some teardown pictures, which are doing the rounds. There appears to be an NFC chip residing in the hardware configuration, of Apple’s new phone. This is photo evidence is very interesting and whilst the tech world has long wanted iPhones to ship with NFC onboard, Apple has never stepped up.

Back in 2011, we sat down with senior Apple execs and discussed our first contextual project and we asked about NFC, which we believed would be perfect for our client’s needs. The response we received was negative and the Apple execs explained that NFC wasn’t on Apple’s immediate roadmap. 

It seemed the principal of NFC technology didn’t concern Apple, just its real-world application. The idea of going on a ‘treasure hunt’ to find NFC tags wasn’t very Apple… they wanted technology to fit seamlessly into people’s lives and they couldn’t support anything which promoted a disjointed experience. We agreed (and we didn’t offer our client an NFC solution).

In 2013 Apple got behind BLE beacons and coined the term iBeacon. We’re 19 months on from that announcement and companies like Journification are thrilled to be experimenting with iBeacons. There have been limited hardware rollouts and many apps, which display the principal of contextual messaging but we felt there was a bigger, more significant play unfolding at Apple!

What if iBeacons were just the start of a logical, connected experience and NFC was the end of this process. What if iBeacons welcomed you into a store, guided you to your preferred product and then you purchased it, on the spot, using NFC??? Suddenly Apple could love NFC.

This idea is ok, but as app developers we know that building a payment gateway into apps is costly (for our clients) and time consuming to achieve - pushing budgets to breaking point. This problem mitigates, if Apple owns a payment platform, which bolts on to new apps. Add 1bn credit cards (up from 800m, in June ‘14) linked to iTunes and suddenly NFC does have a place on the iPhone 6 - connecting mobile devices to a fully scalable, payments environment.

Apple is renowned for innovation but mobile phone tech is at a tipping point. Handsets have become so refined, so feature packed and even share similar designs. So, the ‘next big thing’ in handsets, might not be the handset itself - it might be what the handset physically enables us to do.

We aren’t making a predication and we have no insight about what Apple is planning. Like most other people, we’ll be glued to our monitors on 9.9.14 but let’s imagine Tim Cook announces the following:

  • iPhone 6 in two sizes and NFC enabled
  • Full iBeacon support - with a demo of iBeacons and NFC working together (in the big tent, which has been built outside the theatre)
  • A payments platform - involving full support from Visa, MasterCard and Amex 
  • iWallet - the new native payments app on iPhone, optimised for NFC
  • Passbook 2.0 - linking iWallet, to iBeacons and NFC

If Apple deliver close to this, the guys at Journification will be thrilled and we can only imagine how the subsequent client conversations will go!

If Apple doesn’t deliver, we’ll probably be lining up to buy the iWatch on launch day instead…

 

Craig Kinnersley, Journification

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Where are the batteries???

It’s virtually impossible to know what you’ll be doing in 2 years time… you could take an educated guess but that’s about as close as you’ll get - unless you have a De Lorean, with a flux capacitor fitted! 

However, iBeacon manufactures seem to have the ability to see into the future. They’ve consistently claimed to offer 2 years battery life. As a side note, we’ve never managed to extract more than 6 months, out of any iBeacon power unit. In fact, we’ve set a record of just 2 weeks, to burn through a brand new battery.

At Journification, we operate in a number of environments and locations. Our clients all have different needs and expectations but they share a common goal, consistent iBeacon uptime. They know this guarantees a great user experience. And this is where we see things differently, to most iBeacon manufacturers.

3 issues concern our clients, when we discuss hardware:

  1. How are they powered
  2. How easy are they to maintain
  3. Do they have to be visible 

Interestingly, hardly anyone cares what an iBeacon looks like!

Within the Journification team, we have experience of running big-box stores and we’ve run high profile, short term events. This means we’re very qualified to know what problems ‘little things’ things can cause. iBeacons are by design, ‘little things’.

It’s true, battery powered iBeacons can be deployed and installed quickly but they come with significant drawbacks, especially in high footfall locations - the constant connection to smartphones, discharges batteries quickly. 

Battery iBeacons also have limited broadcast range and suffer significantly reduced range, when transmitting through walls and glass - a problem if you want to trigger messaging through a window display, for example. There’s also the increased maintenance demand, which ensures uptime. 

In a small area iBeacons can be managed easily. In bigger deployments, like a festival site, or throughout an entire retail estate, this is much more of a challenge. A challenge which brings spiralling costs and negative environmental issues, into sharp focus. Imagine having to send out a maintenance crew every week, to over 100 stores, just to replace iBeacon batteries! 

Therefore, it’s interesting for us to observe that iBeacon manufacturers continue to raise large VC investment, which never seems to address the battery problem significantly. 

Indeed, we see this investment being spent on more design elements, sourcing slightly bigger batteries and the development of software platforms. And as we’ve identified, design is insignificant. A slightly bigger battery might mean slightly more life and software is not in the manufacturers wheelhouse - so beware!!! Plus we’d be reluctant to get into a situation where every iBeacon in your estate sat on a proprietary platform - imagine the chaos if the manufacturer went out of business… there’s that old saying ‘ never put all your eggs in one basket’. 

As Journification moves forward as a business, we’re constantly evaluating alternative iBeacon solutions. We’re categorising and recording the type of situations where a battery iBeacon is relevant and more importantly we’re identifying where we can deploy mains powered iBeacons - surely the future of this technology? 

In July 2014, 96% of our client meetings ended with the client stating a strong preference, for mains powered hardware. They listed several important benefits when making this decision.

We concur, so we’ve started to work with a business developing mains powered iBeacons and we’ve been introduced to another, who we are providing our consulting services to! 

The mains powered iBeacon we are helping to develop (trailing the units and providing rich data feedback) are gathering significant attention amongst our client base. We’re thrilled, because many of our clients are global brands and potentially want to take this hardware into their retail and lifestyle locations around the world.

We’re also leading a collaboration of companies, which could ultimately see us become the biggest iBeacon hardware operator, in the world. So, we share a common bond with our clients. 

In an always on, always connected world, we can’t endorse a situation where changing iBeacon batteries every 2 weeks is acceptable. We want to utilise mains power, to deploy-and-forget iBeacons and then concentrate on thinking about how we can better connect to our consumers.

If you’d like to know more about mains powered iBeacons and the amazing capabilities they offer over their battery powered cousins, or if you want to sense check those small instances, where battery power is a good idea and may be essential, call us. 

Journification is a completely independent business and we have yet to endorse an iBeacon manufacturer. Our app solutions are agnostic but we hope it’s pretty clear, our roadmap will be see us mix 80% mains, with 20% battery hardware.

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We're 'banking' on Apple

It's Monday, June 2nd and we're only 9 hours away, from hearing what Apple are planning to do with their operating systems...

I'm interested to learn how my Mac desktop will look and perform in the next few months, I've been a dedicated Mac user since 1998 and each year, around this time, WWDC sets the agenda. However, I'm really excited to see where iOS is going. And I'm certain the iBeacons will form a significant part of these developments.

As each day goes by, I'm finding more uses for iBeacons and we're bringing this functionality to clients directly. The pace of innovation, in the year since beacons came into focus, has been amazing. This innovation has largely been driven by independent companies (like Journification) but every CEO accepts that Apple has more resources to develop ideas and an amazing ecosystem, upon which to deploy these ideas.

Apple also has 800m credit cards on file, linked to iTunes.

800m is a staggering number - it's a number that grows daily and that's and exciting prospect. I think Apple is fostering an intention to become a major player, in mobile payments. iWallet will be the vehicle to do this and will I suggest it will be linked to mobile devices, via an app. iTunes will continue to exist in it's own right but won't be responsible for taking and managing our payments, as it is today.

Add in biometrics, as a security feature - already installed in the iPhone 5 S and we have a direct payment tunnel, which can be used by people on the go! People on the go, are the core target market of Journification and by blending iWallet (or whatever it's called) with iBeacons, you can pay for more things, more quickly.

If you want to know more about how I think payments on mobile will develop, you'll have to call me!

As for the other announcements relating to iBeacons, I'm sure health, access control, the prospect of linking beacons to wearable technology and in-home solutions will be discussed. I hope so, as the team at Journification are already considering these things. But we're banking on Apple changing payments and if it doesn't happen today, I'm pretty sure it will happen very soon...

Craig Kinnersley, Journification.  

 

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Journification

As we approach the midpoint of 2014, we have been enhancing and updating our product portfolio - this follows feedback from various clients and pitch meetings...

One of the things we wanted to enhance was our own website and this included the addition of this blog. The website has been updated and we'll continue to refine and add to the content included upon it. However, these updates are likely to be occasional, rather than frequent. The site gives us an amazing platform to show people what we're doing and what we can deliver but we'll only ever publish this, when we're happy about our delivery capability.

In the meantime, this blog will be used to complement our Twitter feed. It will give us, a more immediate forum to expand upon our thoughts. We'll also get to discuss what's going on with iBeacons, in the wider world. I also want to keep you informed about the key topics being discussed, by the guys at Journification.

I'll keep todays comments short. After all, I've taken up too much of your time already, setting up the blog. So what's going on?

iBeacons are gathering momentum. The press are taking note and the the tech forums are alive with speculation. I have to constantly remind myself that most people are very new to the hyper-contextual messaging world and take a deep breath, as I read much of the content.

In short, many of the things I'm reading are factually wrong... In other instances, people are misinterpreting what iBeacons can do. The answer, you might think is eduction - informing people what these little bluetooth transmitters do and more importantly, how smartphones and apps interact with them... for it's within the apps that the magic happens.

However, in the case of iBeacons, I think the best education is delivered visually. I've experienced more success, showing people what iBeacons are about and how they activate the apps we build, than talking about them.

So, I would like to meet more people and show them what we do. I want to win business this way but I'll take educating someone about our product / technology, as a win - for now!

Craig Kinnersley, Journification.  

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