Apple's iBeacon Arrives at Target Field

Perhaps it’s a little-known sign that Apple is in fact developing a line of wearable technology. This spring, Apple is rolling out a portion of its latest technology, called iBeacon. And one of the first places you can experience it is at the ballpark.

So what is iBeacon? I suppose you have to look to science fiction to see the tech to come. Star Trek foreshadowed computer discs and flip-phone communicators. So where do we look for an example of iBeacon? Some have likened it to technology depicted in Minority Report. If you’ve seen the film, you may remember when Tom Cruise’s character walks through the mall, signage along the way recognizes him, welcomes him by name, and makes specific product offers as he walks by. Well, that version of the future may soon no longer look as foreign.

iBeacon’s are nothing more that tiny transmitters that send simple signals. Apple simply calls them a location service; it’s specific applications responding to them that do all of the work. Instead of using longitude and latitude to determine your location, iBeacon uses a low-powered Bluetooth signal to an iOS device (iOS 7 or later) to estimate your proximity. Soon these “beacons” could be installed in retail outlets and other public locations just like the 2054 world depicted in Minority Report. Specific apps will use the technology in a store to determine your location and direct you to, let’s say, a checkout or other services.

Among the first to rollout such technology is Major League Baseball. Twenty ballparks, including Target Field, have been equipped with the iBeacons. Even without the latest technology, MLB’s At the Ballpark provides guests with many additional services, including parking information, real-time player stats, stadium concourse maps and other features. Now, iPhones users equipped with the app will begin to receive notifications when they arrive near the stadium to check-in. Visitors will also receive exclusive offers as they move about the stadium. New features are under development as well, and will be released throughout the season.

But here’s the catch. You must have iBeacon apps installed on your device in order for them to work—in this case MLB At the Ballpark. Yet, preliminary reports indicate that you don’t need to have the app up and running in order for it to work. Instead, messages from an iBeacon automatically appear on your phone’s home screen, much like a message for a missed call might look. That’s why I believe wearable technology is right around the corner for Apple. Not to turn a travel post into an iWatch rumor report, but it’s hard to imagine that such tech could completely reach its potential without wearables. Who wants to go digging in their pocket for their phone every time a new message buzzes as you walk by another beacon? Such technology could greatly enhance any travel experience, not just at the ballpark.