WWDC 2016: iBeacon and Apple’s Last Chance

Google is cleaning Apple’s clock in proximity. Their suite of software development tools leaves Apple in the dust – from tight integration of their Nearby API and their Eddystone beacon protocols, to the monumentally important physical web, Google is making sense of proximity.

It didn’t need to be that way. Apple was first out of the gate with the iBeacon protocol. They had ample opportunity to take it further.

But a few World Wide Developer Conferences later, and iBeacon is the orphan child of Cupertino – filled with vague promises never fulfilled.

The only hint of iBeacon heading in a new direction was the announcement that you would soon be able to deliver “Offers” . But the project was abandoned when Apple killed iAd. (And the link to the Apple announcement has long been dead).

The Mistakes Apple Makes

The launch of iBeacon promised to revolutionize how our phones would react to the world around them. Apple launched it with little fanfare and yet it prompted a wave of hype – the promise that retailers could reach consumers with coupons, that museums could display digital data “next to” a painting or sculpture, or that we could track down friends at a club because their phones would be broadcasting as beacons.

The initial problems were understandable. A new way to “listen” to nearby devices was bound to have a few bumps. And you’d expect over time that Apple would continue to enhance and improve the technology.

But after several years, the changes have been minimal. And in some ways they’ve perhaps even degraded.

The technology itself, however, wasn’t the only problem:

  • iBeacon was a trademark for beacons, but Apple offered little value in the iBeacon brand. You could adopt the iBeacon mark – or not. There was little incentive for beacon manufacturers to proudly wave the iBeacon flag, because it offered little assurance to end purchasers. Sure, it said that “this beacon can be heard by iPhones” but this caused more of a limitation than an opportunity – because the obvious next question was “What about Android?”
  • Apple lawyers got in the way. The company aggressively protected its ‘iBeacon specification’. But the move was kind of like trying to protect a proprietary version of WiFi – it’s a technology everyone needs to use, and by ‘blocking’ access it created market confusion and all kinds of end-runs around the iBeacon standard.
  • iBeacon detection became (even more) unpredictable. With every new OS release, you’d have to test all over again. The dependability of beacon detection kept changing. With one release, you would detect beacons quickly, and with the next O/S it seemed as if Apple was trying to conserve battery and had toggled back beacon monitoring. Without the ability to dependably say how long it would take to detect a beacon, and without being able to see ‘under the hood’ developers were faced with constantly checking their assumptions about beacon detection every time a new version of iOS was launched.
  • There was little integration with other parts of the Apple ecosystem. Have you ever tried to register your “place” with Apple? I can barely find the page. Google, on the other hand, offers much deeper integration with other parts of their ecosystem – in part because of how far ahead they are on things like maps, places, nearby and other protocols.

But perhaps more than the above, Apple neglected the one thing that it does best: focusing on the end user.

Instead, it has allowed app developers to make what they will of iBeacon and BLE, while offering little guidance on how to create great consumer experiences. As a result, we’ve seen struggles in develop “hits” – apps where consumers truly get a ‘wow’ factor.

This isn’t solely Apple’s fault, of course. Instead, the company has focused on other broader experiences – and will perhaps one day bring iBeacon back into the fold.

Physical Web is a Game Changer

Google, on the other hand, looked at the experience of proximity and has created beacon-detection tools that make sense – the Eddystone protocols are well considered, have rich documentation, great examples, and tight integration with other services.

But the true game changer is the Physical Web. And while it’s early days, the Physical Web creates opportunities for user experiences that truly make a difference – by hooking proximity into the web itself.

With the shift to browsers that can detect and control all kinds of BLE devices, the Physical Web is one part of a larger shift to a Web which reacts to the physical world – and in this open world Google will always be master.

The tension between open and closed systems will continue to tug and pull, but for right now open is winning and Apple is left behind.

WWDC – What’s Next?

All of which leaves Apple with one last chance – to elevate iBeacon from orphan child to star of the show.

If Apple makes a move, it won’t be to enhance the ability to deliver coupons. It will be part of a larger ‘connected space’ strategy which may incorporate Apple News, Music or other products.

But it’s a last kick at the can for Apple, in my opinion. Because depending what approach they take at their Developer Conference in a few weeks, developers may well migrate to a “Google-only” proximity strategy (including the use of Google tools on Apple devices).

It’s up to Apple, as they have many times before, to take what others have done and make it their own. But in this case, the mistakes they need to learn first are their own.

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Do you think Apple can change the game? Or will Google now dominate proximity? What could Apple do next with iBeacon – or is it too late? Drop a comment below, or pop me a note on Twitter.

Beacons, Apps and Data Ownership

Bob! Get in the sled!

Guest Post: Thomas Walle, CEO and Co-Founder Unacast

During my attendance at several conferences about beacons, proximity and location based marketing the last couple of months, the conversations and discussions with peers have started to heat up. Especially in recent is the Street Fight awards, where Unacast won the best mobile marketing campaign for our work with Coke and Capa Cinema. In my view these heated discussions are needed to ensure we all build our industry together in the right direction.

In my experience the most heavily discussed topic during coffee and lunch breaks at every event, without exception, is data ownership. And when data ownership is brought up, people tend to get their spikes out, instinctively. The reason for this is not clear, but it´s probably linked to the fact that they know, or at least have heard, that data is gold and needs to be protected by all means.

 To app or not to app

Another common topic is how to get started with beacons when the retailer doesn’t have an app. The rise of beacons has encouraged marketing teams all over the world to rebuild and re-launch their existing apps to take advantage of the possibilities beacons open up. Others, without a current app are hard at work developing a new app and a strategy surrounding it. With beacons, there’s finally a good reason to invest in an app strategy.

However, there is still a large number of retailers and brands that decide not to develop their own app, but would still like to take advantage of the beacon technology. There can be many reasons for choosing not to develop – the investment required to build the app, the marketing required to get people to use the app or the fact that they want to reach a large audience immediately without growing their app base organically. For some companies, I agree that such a decision is the right one.

What we see these retailers and brands with no app do, is that they turn around to a 3rd party app with an existing and large user base. The retailer deploys beacons in their store and allows the 3rd party app to listen to the beacons, send push notifications and collect data.

“All in all, this is great news for all of us working in the proximity industry, more deployments, use cases and adoption is what we need”

But, this is also where a big challenge arises. The two topics I introduced in the beginning, data ownership and use of 3rd party apps, intersect. The following example is something we’ve seen being played out several times among our Unacast PROX partners:

The app owner claims ownership of the data as the users are using their app. At the same time, the retailer or brand claims ownership over the data as the beacons are installed at their location and the users are their customers since they entered their store. Then, the discussion goes back and forth a couple of times, but what then sometimes happens always surprises me. The retailer or brand, too eager to start using beacons, accepts the 3rd party app´s demand and gives them the ownership to the data.

“WHAT? Why did you do that? Why do you give away the most valuable asset? Finally, you can leverage and utilize data about your customer’s offline behavior, but you choose to give it away?”

These are exactly the words that run through my head every time I hear this happen.

I can’t be more clear about this – the use of beacons are not only about push notifications and in-store promotion. The most important aspect and where the true value lies is how this data can strengthen your customer knowledge, online marketing and omni-channel strategy.

As always, by cooperation and sharing, we move forward

So, how can this be solved? Luckily, it’s manageable. It´s all about redefining what data ownership means and how it’s governed in the relevant agreements between the involved parties. Instead of talking about data ownership, owned and guarded by (usually the strongest) party, cross-licensing of the data, where both parties have rights and access is the solution. Several of our partners in the PROX network have seen great success with this setup and we advise them closely on how to make this feasible.

What we see is that when cross-licensing is introduced, the 3rd party app becomes more popular with more retailers and brands wanting to connect to it for beacon purposes. And this is why I believe 3rd party apps should also embrace cross-licensing. All apps want more users, that is their currency.

And by allowing cross-licensing they will, 100% guaranteed, attract more retailers and brands, increasing the 3rd party app´s monthly users and consequently their value.

We all agree that proximity is at an early, but promising, stage. However, to really accelerate market growth and adoption, all the involved parties need to play together to make that happen.

It is worth taking this heated discussion upfront now to ensure we all build this industry together, and in the right direction.

And, it goes without saying, all usage of data should always have the consent of the end user and deliver real value back. But you already know that of course.

It takes two to tango. It takes two or four to pilot a Bobsled. Etc.

– Thomas Walle, CEO and Co-Founder Unacast

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Kontakt to its Customers: You’re All Doomed

Kontakt, one of the largest manufacturers of beacons, has a message for its customers: you’re all doomed.

In what might rank as one of the more bizarre examples of corporate messaging, the company’s founder has taken to LinkedIn to pronounce that with the arrival of the Eddystone beacon protocol (and related services) by Google, proximity companies are headed for the dust bin if they don’t radically change (and soon).

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, proximity devs: it tolls for thee,” proclaims Szymon Niemczura.

But extending the logic of Szymon’s article, you can’t help draw the conclusion that it isn’t just the devs who will pay the price for Google’s entry into the market.

If you’re a retailer, a brand, a museum, a car company, a city or a theme park – you too should just throw up your hands and give up now.

Google will own mobile moments, the borg has arrived, and closed off becosystems will look something like AOL in the years to come: a walled garden that no one visits anymore.

And Apple? Naw. Says Szymon:

With a vanishing share of the smartphone market, the last thing the house that Steve built wants to do is give developers even more reason to jump ship.

Ah yeah. Poor Apple. Poor shrinking tiny little Apple. It’s hard to remember that they’re still around! It will be cute to see what little features they try to throw at us to protect their ever-vanishing market share and profits.

What’s Your Secret Sauce?

Now, I like Kontakt. They’re some really really smart people.

(Although, what’s with the videos that look like they were shot at summer camp? And by the way – audio engineering is a thing).

So maybe they have a secret sauce as Szymon claims: “At Kontakt.io, we think we’ve found our special sauce that will keep us growing and thriving as giants of the Internet space like Google, Apple, Facebook, and others compete over who earns what from the IoT.”

In response to which I have a question: China?

Because if Szymon’s observations are true, then the beacon itself has become king. The app layer, the SDKs and the software, the cloud services and back-end analytics will be swallowed up by the Web.

The promise of Eddystone is that you can turn your beacon into a Web endpoint and simply broadcast a URL.

And if that’s true, then it opens up the opportunity to flood the market with cheap beacons from China that do nothing more than broadcast a URL.

Do You Jump Into Bed With Google?

Setting aside the tone of Szymon’s article, it points to a larger question.

Because what’s clear is that Google has hit a home run. Eddystone is everything a beacon should be.

Google took a page from the Apple playbook: wait for the industry to develop, cherry pick the best ideas, and then come out with something that does everyone else one better.

The Eddystone format is brilliant.

But now you need to make a decision: do you go “all in” with Google, do you try to find a middle ground, do you focus on the “app-less” layer or combine different proximity experiences to create a unified customer journey?

Creative Tensions Between Open and Closed Systems

The way you answer the above questions will have a big impact on what kind of beacon you buy and what kind of customer experience you want to create.

In an interview with Kontakt, they clearly think that the “app-less beacon world” is a big deal:

Along with yesterday’s release of new Chrome browser for iOS with support for a Physical Web standard this became clear – proximity devices are able to communicate with our phones without the need for other apps. This means a Physical Web is finally visible and ready for broader adoption.

But here’s the problem: what does “communicate with our phones” mean?

Is that all we really want to do? Is your vision of the mobile world one in which the Web has won?

Szymon is right:

“10 years in Internet is effectively forever, and it’s a rare startup that considers what the landscape will look like as far out as two years, but this matters, so I’ll point it out: native capacity to push alerts and more direct from beacons to devices kills a huge number of app use cases.”

Truly, the traditional definition of an “app” is eroding.

There will be apps that sit on your phone but that you’ll never use on their own. Instead, they’ll be shared as ‘sheets’ inside other apps, provide deep linking capabilities, and sit as a kind of invisible thread across an ecosystem of experiences.

But that doesn’t mean that apps will be replaced by whatever Google has to offer, anymore than it means that HTML will win in the war against native.

Which is why Eddystone does more than just broadcast Web pages (although its ability to do so will open up some pretty great user journeys).

Like many engineers, Kontakt seems to be more interested in the transactional nature of systems than the very real human experience they entail.

(Just look at Kontakt’s Web site or its developer portal and you’ll see what I mean – they feel like were designed in 2002 by a bunch of engineers one weekend).

The implication here is that in the tension which will always exist between open and closed systems, the pendulum has swung: open will win, Google is right, native is disappearing and apps are dead.

If you’re willing to make that bet, great. Go for it. At least you’ve taken a stance! And perhaps in the longer arc of history you’ll be right – but until then we still have to worry about today.

What Kind of Beacon Will You Use?

In response to questions about Eddystone, Kontakt tells me that you’re going to need to make a choice (at least for now) in which of their beacons you choose: Eddystone OR iBeacon.

Why? Because battery.

In an interview, Kontakt tells me:

Our beacons broadcast 4 different frames one after the other: 3 advertising packets (Eddystone-UID, Eddystone-URL, Eddystone-TLM) and a scan response. To the best of our knowledge, Kontakt.io is the only company on the market who has offered that from day one.

We have been investigating the possibility to add also an iBeacon frame to the set, but broadcasting that many different packets is going to cause a pretty heavy battery drain. While we research ways to help keep a useful battery life on our product, we will also be looking at client demand for this feature. We don’t have any timeline on when we may roll this out, as it’s very much just in R&D right now.

Which is odd, considering that if you don’t interleave with iBeacon, then your beacon battery might be fine, but the iOS user’s won’t be. By relying on Core Bluetooth instead of the native framework from Apple, you can expect Apple users to take a hit on battery life if you’re solely relying on the Eddystone format.

These kinks might be worked out, but it’s an obfuscation to say that it’s your beacon’s battery which is the sole limitation.

In fairness, Kontakt isn’t entirely advocating a “throw out your iBeacons” stance. If you’ve got some of those old beacons lying around then sure, why not, you should hang on to them. (But I guess you should know that you’re missing out on some huge potential):

Every discussion regarding iBeacon and Eddystone formats, and which one fits our client needs better, always starts with a question about use case details. Eddystone opens new possibilities, but at the same time requires more complicated coding to integrate as it sends more types of data than iBeacon does. Beacons that use Eddystone-TLM format to send telemetry data (such as temperature data) will have shorter battery life because they are sending more data packets etc. All of that needs to be taken into account before we jump on the Eddystone bandwagon.

In general, I think that “switching” is probably not the correct choice for anyone with a live deployment right now. Anyone with a P.O.C. that’s running, though, or someone who’s in early tests? I would strongly encourage that those people try this out because this whole platform is growing in exciting ways and has huge potential.

For many use cases, an Eddystone URL format beacon might be fine. You might be able to move the needle a bit on customer engagement.

For everyone else, there are larger questions at stake.

Kontakt itself hints at this future. With the coming wave of mesh beacons, the company’s Cloud Beacon takes aim at what will happen when the next Bluetooth specification starts hitting the market. The company tells me they have big plans, and that those plans validate why its Cloud Beacon format isn’t threatened by Google’s Proximity API:

Our Kontakt.io Cloud Beacon remains the only enterprise-level tool for beacon monitoring that we’re aware of: if you need to be able to guarantee that you are scanning and looking at beacons in a given area at regular intervals, a Cloud Beacon is your best bet. On top of that, Cloud Beacons are part of our other real competitive advantages: security and sharing.

In the future we will introduce completely encrypted channels for communication between beacons, cloud beacons, and smart devices. This, combined with powerful features such as our scheduled profile shuffling (driven by our API) and the industry’s only Power Sleep mode designed to extend beacon battery life, means that the Cloud Beacon still has very strong USPs that make it an attractive prospect for any company looking to roll out beacons on the large scale.

An Industry Transformed

The industry has been transformed with the launch of Eddystone.

For beacon manufacturers, a new wave of low-cost alternatives from China will put pressure on them to tighten up the value-added services they provide, the relationships they have with developers, and the level of execution they put into their user documentation, community management and marketing.

For developers, the range of opportunities has expanded rather than contracted.

But while Eddystone might seem to cut through the clutter and remove barriers in app development it also creates a richer, and thus more complex suite of choices for brands, retailers, cities and cultural institutions.

I have deep faith in this industry.

I don’t need to give any of you a wake-up call or tell you that you’re doomed. Because for the 100s of proximity companies I’ve talked to, and for the hundreds of brands and retailers we’ve interacted with (and who are doing their best to make sense of a rapidly changing world), I’ve found that optimism in the face of progress is the best guarantee of innovation.

And this week, we’ve entered a new era in which to thrive.

Share Your Thoughts

Join our e-mail list for more on iBeacons and BLE. Join the conversation on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

How will you respond to Eddystone? Is this a new era of doom or one of innovation?

iBeacon and Why Apple Streaming Music Might Be Free

Apple can make its streaming music service free. And it’s because of iBeacon.

The New York Times reports that industry analysts are predicting a tough climb for the company’s new streaming music service. Apple will need to shift from the pay-to-download model of iTunes toward the all-you-can-eat-buffet of streaming music. And in doing so, it will need to get the support of a music industry that can now turn to Pandora, Spotify or other services to push back on pricing and access.

But these reports are looking for the Apple advantage in all the wrong places – focusing on apps and pricing, iTunes and vivid visuals.

And while those things might be important, Apple has advantages that other streaming services don’t.

This includes access to a platform for music which is larger than the Web and bigger than mobile – a platform made possible, in part, by iBeacons.

Apple Is – Gasp! Not The First-Mover

According to Toni Sacconaghi, a financial analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein, Apple is late to the game.

“They’re used to being a shaper rather than a responder,” Mr. Sacconaghi said. “This is one of the few times where Apple is playing catch-up and not necessarily coming from a position of strength.”

Which makes me wonder what universe Sacconaghi is analyzing, exactly.

History has shown the opposite, of course. The entire Apple business model is based on coming late to the game – letting others get there first and arriving later with far superior products, whether music players, tablets, phones or watches.

If there’s a company on the planet who has shown it knows how to excel at coming second it’s Apple.

Regardless, the media seems happy to create a narrative in which there’s a good old-fashioned showdown between entrenched players like Spotify and the “newcomer” which is Apple.

Is The Apple Advantage an Interface?

These reports predict that Apple might have a shot because…well, because it will have a shiny interface:

The new music app, which is a collaborative effort between Mr. Reznor and other Apple and Beats employees, including Jimmy Iovine — who founded Beats with the hip-hop star Dr. Dre — will feature the streaming music service with many of the same characteristics as the Beats Music streaming service, one Apple employee said. Those may include curated playlists and a more vivid visual appeal, while conforming to Apple’s sleek and minimal design aesthetic, one person said. The name Beats Music will most likely be shed.

More vivid visuals. A minimal design aesthetic.

I can hear Jony Ive now, luxuriating over how every single pixel is perfect, hand drawn from molten gold with every musical note optimized down to nanogradients of sound.

The larger Apple advantage isn’t, of course, an interface. (iTunes has survived just fine even in its current incarnation as a benchmark for horrible UX design).

Apple’s advantage is its ecosystem, from the hardware to software, continuity between devices, and connectivity to your iPad, Apple TV or coming Watch.

If nothing else, Apple could drive a user experience which adapts a music stream based on whether you’re running or working out, can shift a stream from your iPhone to your home speakers with the flick of your thumb, and connect the mood of your music to the Philips lighting in your living room.

This ecosystem on its own, in addition to 800 million iTunes users, can give Apple an edge, regardless of the monthly price.

But there’s another frontier worth considering and it has nothing to do with the device in your pocket or the technology in your home. Because elsewhere the physical world is becoming a digital interface.

And streaming music could, one day, be embedded in things, with iBeacon showing us the way.

iBeacon and The Battle for Physical Space

iBeacon is Apple’s trademark term for Bluetooth Low Energy devices. By sending out a small radio signal, beacons allow our phones and other devices to “see” the world around them.

Beacons are being used in museums and public gardens, shopping malls and parking lots. They let the owner of a “place” send out a push message, a coupon, a piece of media or a special offer to a user’s phone via a ‘beacon-enabled’ mobile app.

Unlike NFC or QR codes, the user doesn’t need to do anything. Their app can be closed but their phone will still listen for beacons.

You can trigger a lock screen message or your app can just be a lot smarter when a user opens it up – sensing nearby beacons in order to present contextually relevant content.

Beacons represent one technology amongst many that are enabling digital interactions with physical space. Anything you can do online can now be triggered by people, places and things. You can “Pin” a store display, Tweet a painting in a museum, or browse a catalogue in the hardware store.

Often conflated with the Internet of Things (which generally refers to the ability of sensors and devices to talk to each other) they nonetheless represent a larger trend towards a fully connected physical world in which billboards know who you are (Minority Report style) and products on a shelf can talk.

Unlocking the Value of Proximity

This convergence of the physical world with digital affordances represents what we think is a platform that will be larger than the Web, which will be more disruptive than mobile, and which will enables new forms of value creation that weren’t previously possible.

With beacons we can link media, content, data and social interaction to the “last meter” of human experience. We can create digital engagement at the point of purchase, we can nudge users from one gallery to another in a museum, we can connect how we live, work and play to increasingly smart and data-driven systems.

This opportunity is both massive and massively frightening.

The convergence of the digital and physical worlds leads to self-driving cars and delivery drones, an apocalypse of artificial intelligence and the benefits of medical research conducted at massive scale.

It also unlocks value that was previously either unavailable, obfuscated or difficult: because if I can connect what you do on a phone to your presence in physical space, if I can connect a piece of media to the point of purchase, it means I can create a connection between digital media and physical activity or product purchases.

It’s this convergence which could both lead to a ‘renaissance of retail’ and its (even more) massive disruption.

In a future of beacons, we’ll see the “AirBnB of grocery” and the “Uber of retail”.

And we’ll see how things like music won’t just be portable. Their value will be embedded in everything.

The Next Big Apple Play is Loyalty

OK, I hate the term loyalty. Because most loyalty programs aren’t about loyalty. They’re transaction-based rewards for purchasing stuff.

I hate the idea of a product called called Apple Loyalty – it sounds like an airline rewards card or a bonus system for owning a ton of Apple devices (buy 10 iPhones and get a free Beats headphone!).

But if there was a company that was going to reinvent the concept of “loyalty” who better than the company that knows something about loyalty? And who better than a company leading the charge on mobile payments, with a growing infrastructure of merchants and payment providers, with the ability for stores to register their locations, and with the software tools to make beacon-detection part of the retail landscape?

Think of it this way:

  • You have two coffee shops near each other
  • One accepts Apple Pay, has iBeacon installed, lets you order in advance, makes the experience of buying your cappuccino frictionless
  • It also has a system in place where you show up, buy a coffee, and your Apple streaming music account is topped up or you’re able to pick up a recommendation from the staff or others who have visited the store

Or imagine going to a concert at a local club and there’s a “powered by Apple Music” sign at the front entrance.

You join a pop-up social network, you share some of your favorite Apple Music streams with fans nearby.

And once you leave your Apple Music account has been personalized, you have access to exclusive band interviews or raw clips from their last recording session, and your streaming costs for the month have been reduced by half because the concert promoter kicked back an account top-up with your ticket purchase.

An Apple patent for iBeacon imagines concerts as venues for media delivery:

Apple’s patent FIG. 15C indicates various location-based content that may be provided in connection with a concert or other music venue. A concert or music venue may provide content including, for example, music, setlists, virtual cards, website information, schedule information (e.g., for upcoming shows at the venue), graphics (e.g., album art, pictures of the band members, etc.), ticket sales (e.g., provide user option to purchase tickets in advance), general information relating to the concert, or any other information.

It’s not loyalty in the traditional sense. It isn’t about transactions it’s about experiences.

And it leverages the power of beacons: because for the first time, physical venues have a financial incentive and an ability to measure digital interactions against real-world behaviour.

If I own the coffee shop and I become an Apple Loyalty location I’m doing it because I can drive more foot traffic to my store compared to the one down the street. The fact that you as the customer get rewarded with Apple Music, if you get a bonus song instead of $2 off your next purchase, so much the better. I’d rather reward you with something you LOVE anyways instead of reducing your bill the next time you visit.

The coffee shop wins. Apple Music wins because it gets more “listens”. And the consumer wins because someone else is partly footing my music bill, and their experience of “place” becomes more deeply grounded in their digital and physical life.

iBeacon, Apple Pay and Apple “Loyalty” are simply the facilitating technologies which will help to triangulate our digital lives, our physical visits, and the interests of the places that we go.

Apple Everywhere

Apple isn’t alone in wanting to own the path you take through the world.

While Apple is focused on closed ecosystems and what I think of as “deeply connected” experiences, Google is coming at the same challenge from a different direction – using the “cloud” to provide an always-on, “deeply ambient” suite of technologies to help guide you through space.

Best typified by Google Now and Google Waze, their goal is to quietly collate where you go and how long you visit with its massive data sets in order to predict and present content that will become increasingly smarter and smarter. Google will know where you’re going before you’ve even decided yourself.

For Apple, the future is smart devices connected to relatively dumb “clouds” (an idea reaffirmed by Tim Cook’s focus on privacy).

For Google, the future is a smart cloud connected to relatively dumb devices.

But both are on a path to take your experience of them out of your pocket and into your home, into the stores you visit and into the music you listen to, television you watch, and games you play.

Beacons are part of this larger journey – dumb devices against which value can be assigned, music unlocked, experiences created, with the result being an absolute blurring of the lines between our digital personas and our physical bodies as they move through space.

Share Your Thoughts

Join our e-mail list for more on iBeacons and BLE. Join the conversation on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

What do you think? Will Apple Music be more than just another version of ‘streaming beats’? How might it connect to Apple loyalty, Apple Pay and iBeacon? Drop a comment below.

Be The Force: Beacons as Moral Agents

The story of technology swings from narratives of hope to a kind of collective despair and anxiety.

We create myths out of people who walk around in faded jeans and hoodies and in the next breath have nightmares about robots taking over our factories, our homes, our cities, our collective conscience.

We revere Steve Jobs or envy Mark Zuckerberg and then imagine the grip technology has on our children and worry about what it will do for their brains, their sense of creativity, their future job prospects.

The Tech World Looks Inward

For the past few weeks, the tech community itself has been gripped by a kind of angst-driven navel-gazing, not without merit, but also not for the first time.

Confounded by success stories that often come coupled with acts of hubris and sleaze, the tech world is like the kid in the school yard who’s asked by his teacher: “Why didn’t you DO something to stop the bullying” and is left struggling for words.

Elon Musk is worried that artificial intelligence will escape into the wild and cause our extinction. Peter Thiel (the very definition of “techy” and eccentric) thinks that Silicon Valley just doesn’t GET how the rest of the world fears change, fears digital transformation.

But it’s not just technology itself which is the cause of the current angst. The Valley (and beyond) has some accounting to do.

Here in Toronto, a truly diverse city, the tech industry has a diversity problem.

Uber is a frat club that collects a massive amount of data on its users and threatens to take-down journalists.

It leaves Nick Bilton at the New York Times wondering whether, in the absence of the investors stepping in, that government might:

Mr. MacDonald noted that part of the problem with tech companies is that, from a financial perspective, there is no incentive to do the right thing. Companies like Uber or Facebook have done the wrong thing in the past and still grown at staggering rates. But, he said, when companies go too far, there are two outcomes: either customers will find an alternative or regulators, with enough public outcry, could break up the party.

What Tech Gets Wrong

But there’s a logical fallacy at the heart of how most people in the tech industry think about technology.

They believe that fears of technology itself are misplaced.

Peter Thiel is the perfect example and embodies a kind of blinkered mind set that is all-too endemic to The Valley.

It’s an attitude that says that people are, well, basically stupid – they fear change, fear technology, and its our job as guardians of the cult/the guild to at least recognize how angst and fear-plagued the common man is.

The rest of the world hasn’t had a chance to taste the Kool Aid, but give them time, be more sensitive, they’ll see the light eventually.

If there’s a fault of technology it’s not the technology that’s to blame. It’s the people.

In this view, if Silicon Valley has faults, it’s not the tech which we should hold accountable but a few bad apples. It’s the misogynist founder or the frat boy CEO whose ruthless pursuit of success leaves a trail of scandals in his wake.

Empathy and Emotion In a World of Code

Om Malik, no slouch when it comes to thinking about technology, writes that it’s time for tech industry to add emotion and empathy to its products:

Having watched technology go from a curio to curiosity to a daily necessity, I can safely say that we in tech don’t understand the emotional aspect of our work, just as we don’t understand the moral imperative of what we do. It is not that all players are bad; it is just not part of the thinking process the way, say, “minimum viable product” or “growth hacking” are.

But it is time to add an emotional and moral dimension to products. Companies need to combine data with emotion and empathy or find themselves in conflict with those they deem to serve.

What Om perhaps doesn’t explicitly state is that the moral dimension of technology isn’t just embodied in how we use technology. It’s deeply embodied in how we build it.

And it’s embodied in our concept of who we “deem to serve”. Our focus is usually on the individual user. On growth rates and trajectories, sure, but mostly on doing what we can to release new features that will appeal to specific users.

This leaves us often ignoring the larger cultural dimension of what we build.

Boundaries and Features Build Our Moral Character

Technology isn’t devoid of moral choice, of ethical decisions, of emotion or empathy. It isn’t a neutral actor waiting for someone to pick it up and do either good or evil.

Technology itself has built-in boundaries and was shaped based on decisions that may have, at the time, seemed like purely aesthetic or user-driven functions but which on reflection had a moral dimension.

The Internet might be a set of features, but what was built in (or left out) has had an impact that lingers to this day.

Walter Isaacson outlines some of these dimensions in his new book The Innovators and we learn that many of the Net’s founders still regret that back-linking and the capacity for transactions wasn’t built right into the web.

These are things that might seem at first glance like features but which were also an implicit choice about the meaning of authority, transparency, exchange and the commercial value of content.

Features are what a user sees. The moral dimension of technology is what happens when those features move beyond the individual user into the larger cultural context of society.

The fact that the technologist was building for features and users doesn’t decouple them from the social context in which that technology takes hold.

Silicon Valley gives good lip service to that larger dimension. Every company is, after all, out to save/change/disrupt/transform the world.

Yet there’s often little connection between the CEO giving good press about the better world we’re all supposedly headed to, and the engineering team who are just trying to ship the damn product, and probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the cultural and moral dimension of what seem like a few simple lines of code.

The Moral Imperative of the Internet of Things

Today, we see a similar tug between different value systems as the Internet of Things begins its march.

From data-driven monster networks whose purpose is to collate trillions of data points to concepts of control, usability and opacity in the connected home there’s a battle for the next digital frontier.

While it may come disguised as feature sets, the decisions being baked in to connected products now will have an inescapable moral dimension in the years to come.

It’s easy to focus on whether a connected product can adjust the temperature of your home. It’s harder to focus on the cultural and moral dimension of buildings that know we’re present, of physical spaces that detect we’re around, of objects that can listen and ambient signals and sensors that are slowly starting to reshape physical spaces in real-time.

On the real-time web, your Facebook feed changes based on a thousand little signals – who your friends are, what cookies you have stored on your machine, what sites you’ve visited and who you’ve chatted with on WhatsApp.

On the Internet of Things, the number of signals will be profoundly greater.

And instead of it being just a web page whose content changes based on those signals, physical space itself will become increasingly fluid, flexible, real-time and data-driven. The products on the shelf in the morning will be different from the afternoon, stores will become “Uber-ized”, the boundaries between offline and online purchasing will disappear.

Beacons Aren’t Neutral Observers

And beacons are playing a leading role in how those first steps towards the digitization of physical space proceeds.

They’re bloody harmless looking things. They don’t do very much, really. They broadcast a signal.

And yet already, the moral character of beacons is becoming rapidly embedded.

Now, you may work with beacons or know someone who does. But when was the last time you talked about the cultural importance of beacons, their ethical dimension, the moral choices implicit in their design?

Sure, maybe we talk a bit about consumer privacy – “But beacons don’t COLLECT anything!”

In other words we use the same line as everyone else in the tech industry: it’s not the tech itself which is to blame, it’s the people who misuse it.

It’s still early days for these little devices. There’s a ton of innovation, from the chip set up to the ‘cloud’.

And within those innovations, we’re seeing a set of features being developed which, in the collective, will lead to limits and boundaries on future developers and users that will embody the field of moral and emotional limits that beacons represent.

Beacons Embody Belief

Now, I’m not sure the designers of the devices ever thought about the implicit assumptions they were making in their development.

They’re just trying to ship great products.

But having said that, I’ve come to know (and respect) a lot of the innovators in the beacon field.

And I can see their personalities and beliefs built into their products:

  • For Estimote, the design, the casing, the tactile feeling of the beacon implies a belief that they have a visible role in our physical landscape
  • At Radius Networks, there’s a collective wisdom in the crowd, in shared code, in granular tools which can be assembled at every-higher levels of complexity
  • For the Wireless Registry, beacons and devices need to be able to authentically claim “I’m here, and I’m who I say I am” (although reconciling that vision to the motivations of device-makers will be a tough tough slog)
  • Kontakt keeps extending its vision of a tightly engineered and coupled cloud,  a kind of technocracy of code
  • Gimbal is building ubiquity and security with itself as the gatekeeper of the nodes
  • Google is trying to advance the notion of the physical web, treating beacons as just another URL that gets collated to the larger cloud
  • Samsung sees beacons as commerce. (Right now, anything that gives them a commercial edge is likely driving a lot of decision-making)

And these examples are just a smattering of the innovation being built around beacons.

Every project we see, if you scratch deep enough, embeds cultural choice and assumption, whether in concepts of push vs ambient computing, the value of information versus social exchange, or in how a developer views whether connected spaces replace, enhance or disrupt traditional ideas of physical design.

Even beneath all of this innovation, these amazing cultural viewpoints, beacons themselves have built-in assumptions:

  • The right to pair securely or openly broadcast
  • The right to be uniquely identified
  • The right to sit to the side of, but become embedded with, other Internet-based technologies

Bluetooth LE itself has made assumptions about its own moral dimensions – unwittingly, perhaps, but it’s there nonetheless.

They make assumptions about being able to tag ownership (through an ID name space), apply base assumptions to concepts of quality of life (through profiles covering things like heart rate monitoring) and defer issues of accountability and data ownership to other parts of the stack.

Beacons might not do a lot but the beacon protocols, the devices, the apps being built on top – each of them is coming loaded up with features and specifications that were built by people who have their own unique cultural prism.

Culture and Taste on the Internet of Things

“They don’t bring much culture into their product”.

Which isn’t, I don’t think, a statement about aesthetics. It’s a statement about emotion and empathy.

Om’s rallying cry deserves repeating: “It is time to add an emotional and moral dimension to products”.

Sean Gourley asks us to look at Big Data and think about stories:

“Data needs stories, but stories also need data. Data, when its put up in front of you as a number, it gets stripped of the context of where the data came from, the biases inherent in it, and the assumptions of the models that created it.”

But let me rephrase that statement for a world of beacons:

“The Internet of Things needs a narrative because it isn’t JUST about data or devices or code. Beacons can’t be stripped of the context in which they’re placed, we can’t ignore the biases inherent in their design or the assumptions built into the models that make their creation possible.”

The Internet had no built-in mechanism for verified identity, no way to pay for content, no reciprocity in links. You can’t understand the cultural and moral dimension of the Internet without understanding the biases upon which it was built.

And now with beacons, we’re already trending towards a world in which certain things are taken for granted: that “the cloud” will always be the leading paradigm, that transactional value will always be an add-on to the default tech stack rather than built into its DNA, that data matters more than stories, that apps are all there will ever be, that the physical world will always look like it looks today.

The Stories We’ll Tell

We’re creating a narrative about beacons. But as an industry we should continue to question, push, probe and extend the limits of what that narrative should be.

Because if we aren’t careful, the moral, cultural and social impact of the tech we’re all playing a role in creating will become ‘baked in’ without us really noticing.

And years from now we’ll blame the people using the technology instead of holding ourselves accountable for how the technology was built in the first place.

Beacons are representative of what I deeply believe will be a wave of technology that is exponentially more transformative than the Internet to date.

But there isn’t some secret group out there, there isn’t some governing body, there isn’t a team of people thinking deep thoughts about what it all means who will publish their conclusions one day.

You are it.

You’re the one shaping it. You’re the one whose decisions today will have a profound impact years or decades from now:

The shift from a generation that started out un-connected to one that is growing up connected will result in conflicts, disruption, and eventually the redrawing of our societal expectations. The human race has experienced these shifts before — just not at the speed and scale of this shift.

The guardians of that shift are you.

Ship great product. Make lots of money. Build cool stuff.

But let’s also take a moment to recognize the cultural stories our devices will tell, the limits or assumptions we’re building into our designs, and how well we express empathy and emotion in the simplest looking little beacon we build, tool we develop, SDK we launch, or experience we design. In other words:

Be The Beacon.

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Thoughts? Comments? Drop them below.

Beacon Ad Networks: The Best Way to Destroy a Developing Industry | Guest Post

While some beacon companies turn to Ad Networks as a savior, doing so would destroy the industry. That’s the premise of our guest author Alex Ball, CEO and Founder of Signal360. He takes a hard look at whether beacon companies should turn to ad revenue to drive growth.

Why Beacon Companies Are Turning to Ad Networks

A year and a half ago Apple released “iBeacon,” a marketing name for a software callback added to the iOS Operating System SDK. To marketing teams at Entertainment, Hospitality and Retail Companies, it was as if Apple had sent an edict as to the future of marketing. It seemed, and continues to seem based on news reports, as if beacons are now at the core of every marketing campaign. However, all those months later, the number of real world implementations are miniscule.

One of the first stated implementers of the technology was Major League Baseball at stadiums across the US. Two seasons later, the technology is deployed at a small subset of stadiums and is delivering only a single welcome message through an application that has downloads of only eighty thousand compared to the tens of millions who visit a ballpark each year.

With the Apple iBeacon announcement have come thousands of “beacon” companies. Every company premises itself on the amazing vision of content being delivered in aisle. However, many of these companies are currently closing shop or pivoting as hardware prices dropped, initial enthusiasm has waned, and companies come to term with the fact that large enterprises buy complete turnkey marketing solutions, not hardware.

So far the story follows a typical arc for a technology; initial outpouring with many competitors, natural pivots and closings as the market is winnowed down to the few companies providing an adequate solution. The problem is that as beacon providers have struggled to effectively signup and integrate with enterprises, many in the industry have turned to an Ad Network as the saving grace.

The Premise of Ad Networks

The premise and promise is that instead of convincing retailers of the value proposition, proximity companies instead try to integrate their SDKs into a variety of 3rd party applications and hope to deliver across networks of physical devices installed in malls, retailers etc.

The recent Lord and Taylor press release stated that the company had embraced Proximity Marketing in its stores. What was not stated explicitly was that the app being used is a 3rd party coupon app and the Lord and Taylor app does not include any proximity functionality.

Unnamed sources at Lord and Taylor informed us that the quoted cost for integration was in the ten of thousand of dollars but that was deemed too expensive. To a company with approximately one million in revenue per store last year, this shows a disappointing precedent of being unable to produce even a small amount of value from proximity marketing. This is not the utopian or even dystopian vision of beacons everywhere, this is a big tease.

..And The Peril of Ad Networks

What’s the danger of Proximity Marketing taking the easy road of integrating with and creating Ad Networks instead of direct with retailers?

  • The danger is that the public’s first interaction with Proximity Marketing will be for a game app to suddenly send twenty notifications as a shopper travels through their grocery store.
  • The danger is that the Retailer will lose the ability to personalize, to learn from its customers, to improve and strengthen its brand and sales.
  • The danger is that the entire Proximity Marketing industry will be permanently damaged. Instantly the power of proximity will be branded by consumers as a spam mechanism for coupons.

The problem with the ad network approach is one of ownership. Because Proximity Marketing is a complex process that requires a retailer, a physical beacon, a smartphone application, interesting creative, feedback mechanisms to control rate of delivery, notice and choice and more; this is not something that fits into the standard agency model of a quarterly ad buy.

When the retailer is not the owner of the experience, then the policing of the content and the relevance is left to the Ad Network which is interested in impressions not in long term value add to the consumer. Proximity technology has the promise of being a powerful weapon in the physical retailers fight against ecommerce; it lets the retailer own the physical and digital experience, giving customized experiences and value to the customer.

So what’s to be done?

There are retailers who are staying the course. At Signal360 we have the pleasure of working with many NRF100 retailers who chose us because of our turnkey and complete solution. Today we have won the RFP’s, integrated into the apps and are deploying at major retailers across the country without sacrificing consumer experience for a seemingly easier path.

What does the future of Proximity Marketing look like?

A few proximity marketing providers will offer complete and turnkey systems to assist retailers deliver in house proximity marketing.

These well crafted and contextual messages will meet with mostly intrigue and interest by consumers as we have seen with our implementations. As consumers become more familiar with the technology and the use cases, and on a case by case affiliate basis, brands will be allowed to deliver into the retailers apps and select 3rd party applications. This will open the door in a controlled way and most importantly keep the ownership with the retailer. Ever since the dawn of the Internet, retailers have seen many of their advantages chipped away. Not so with proximity, retailers will finally own their physical as well as digital space.

Count us in to that vision. That’s something we want to be a part of. Because in the end its what will be good for the consumer and thats what matters.

Guest Author

Alex Ball, CEO and Founder of Signal360. Signal360 a leader in proximity marketing solutions with over four years of experience creating a differentiated, turnkey, best in class proximity platform.

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What do you think? Will brands be able to resist the call of ad networks? And what will it mean for consumer acceptance and the success (or failure) of beacon-focused companies?

iWatch, iBeacon and What's Wrong With Wearables

iWatch Concept from Charlie No

When you working with iBeacon technology, the coming generation of wearable devices seems like a natural extension to how you think about user experiences.

What better place, after all, to push a welcome message triggered by a beacon than to your wrist? If you’re not asking your customer to take their phone out of their pocket every 15 seconds as they wander the aisles of the grocery store, surely you can increase information and message density if all they need to do is glance at their watch?

But just like the earliest press reports and experiments with iBeacon technology were mostly clumsy and focused on a narrow set of use cases, the way we view smart watches is partly wrong and is focused more on the retailer, hardware maker, or ad platform than on the actual person who needs to wear the thing.

What a Watch Means

I still remember my first watch. It looked kind of stylish with a gold edge and clean white face and serif font symbols. Wearing it made me feel – well, adult, I guess.

I suppose it was a status symbol – although I come from a generation where you didn’t measure your peers by the kinds of sneakers they had, so it was probably a less blatant symbol than a smart watch might be today. But it was certainly a marker – it said to ME, at least, that I had passed a border into some kind of pseudo adult world of responsibility and ornamentation.

To that end, Forbes speculates that the recent hiring blitz for wearables talent at Apple means they’re about to become a fashion company, ready to launch a luxury brand:

I contend that Apple is in the process of building a brand strategy that will make the smartwatch in general and the iWatch in particular ubiquitous in the high-end retail environment and in popular culture. Through this positioning all of the utility promised for health, fitness and contextual information will be delivered—but that is the cart not the horse.

And while this might seem obvious to the general consumer (a watch should look beautiful, should convey more than utility) it isn’t always obvious to tech-obsessed engineering focused companies like Google or Amazon. As Khoi Vin neatly summarizes:

When technology companies look at goods that are built from the outside in, they generally see irrationality and inefficiency, a broken market just waiting to be corrected and “disrupted.” They believe that they can engineer so much value into these items that people will be swayed to buy goods built from the inside out, that the promise that drives hardware and software—“adopt this and benefit from its utility”—will convince people to upend their sartorial habits. This is how you get products like Google Glass, which assumes that consumers prize utility so much that they’re willing to look like they have no interest whatsoever in having intimate relations with another human being.

The Control of Time

But my watch was also something else. While perhaps illusory, it was also a symbol of control. It gave me the chance to have personal control over The Time.

It meant I could manage it, segment it, keep an eye on it. Being able to “Watch The Time” was now personal, and I had the tool to do so.

In my generation, time was perhaps the defining anxiety. Popular culture imagined “a time” when we’d have more time for leisure and would need to dedicate less time to work. Technology was imagined as a time saver – meals could be prepared faster with microwaves, houses could be cleaned faster, we’d need to spend less time at the office. We were on the cusp of a society-wide leisure class, where time would be released because of technology and would give us more time for the things we love.

We were trying to shake the boundaries of time. Live longer, enjoy more, work less. Technology would make it possible.

But instead, time took second position to a new anxiety, a new obsession.

We don’t talk about time anymore – other than as subservient to a new age of anxiety, one driven by information. Time has been lost because we have to deal with too much information. Time isn’t the end game, the thing to be controlled.

Instead, it’s data we wrestle with: too much information, too many e-mails, too many tweets and wall posts and pins, too many late night text messages from our boss and too many feeds we feel we need to keep on top of.

We once wrestled with, dreaded and remained hopeful that we could control time. Now, we wrestle with, dread and remain hopeful that we can, somehow, control the flow of information.

We worship at the altar of the cloud, of Big Data, and information becoming smarter. But this comes coupled with anxieties over surveillance, information overload, and desperately looking for a new tool, a new dashboard, a new way to deal with the deluge of data.

iBeacon: Programmed to Receive

Bluetooth LE beacons are simple. They send out small packets of data which your phone receives and can then act upon.

From this paradigm, the design of user experiences seems to follow a natural progression to ‘pushing’ data and information to a customer based on proximity.

But as I’ve long argued on this blog, beacons very quickly challenge UX designers to think about user experiences in new ways:

  • How many messages are too many?
  • How do you trade off ambient and ‘push’ experiences?
  • If beacons are triggers to real world people, places and things – how does the physical world itself need to change to enable to user experience?
  • What happens when you have more than one beacon? What happens when people (like shop assistants) are beacons too?
  • How do you juggle the fact that a phone can detect more information density than a typical consumer – especially when you combine the information density of a phone with the visual density of a physical place?

And yet the current generation of smart watches treat the wrist as an extension of the “receive/broadcast” paradigm.

They’re just another screen that’s programmed to receive – whether ads, push notices, or directions to work.

Driven primarily by companies with a vested interest in creating more advertising space, wearables are treated primarily as another screen that’s meant to receive.

In contrast, health wearables like Fitbit or Nike Fuel are data collection engines. Ostensibly acting to motivate and measure, to give you a sense of control over the amount of exercise you do, the number of calories you burn, or the number of hours you sleep – they walk a difficult line between providing this sense of control and just adding to the problem – more data to parse in your already information-saturated day.

Smart watches are another ad screen (albeit with lots of other stuff wrapped around that idea). And health wearables are data gathering engines programmed to create more data on your phone, tablet or PC.

More data, more information, and less time.

A Clean, Well-Lit Space

In a seminal interview about virtual worlds seven years ago, Eben Moglen, an IBM fellow, spoke about the challenges of digital space on our sense of privacy and control:

I see again and again the ways in which people now find themselves unable to make certain life choices easily because there digital self has acquired an inflexibility that constrains their non-digital self…We understood when the Soviet Empire decayed that all over it were places where people felt trapped in webs of surveillance and betrayal and interaction that had a kind of sinister feeling even if there is no Gulag and there is no shooting. And many of us feel very uncomfortable with the changes in the society we live in the United States in the past several years where for us there is no Gulag, no shooting, no being swept away with out charges.

Social contracts ought to be available in a machine readable form which allows the (user) to know exactly what the rules are and to allow you set effective guidelines about I don’t go to spaces where people don’t treat me in ways that I consider to be crucial in my treatment.

It has got to tell you what the rules are of the space where you are it has to give you an opportunity to make an informed consent about what is going to happen given those rules. It has got to give you an opportunity to know those things in an automatic sort of way so I can set up my avatar to say, you know what, I don’t go to places where I am on video camera all the time. Self, if you are about to walk into a room where there are video cameras on all the time just don’t walk through that door. So I don’t have to sign up and click yes on 27 agreements, I have got (a profile) that doesn’t go into places that aren’t clean and well lit.

This concept of a clean, well-lit space has resonated with me for years.

And thinking of it now, it reminds me of my first watch: a device that gave me a sense of control, a clean interface to something over which I might not be able to change, but I could at least learn to accommodate, to live with, to manage.

The current generation of wearable devices might give me more information, and the data it presents might even be smarter…but measuring its utility (as Google did in launching its wearables platform) in the number of times I won’t need to take my phone out of my pocket (or the ability to order pizza) is a less compelling emotional story than my first watch – which gave me control over time itself.

Will The iWatch Transmit or Receive?

I have no idea what Apple has planned for its iWatch, obviously. But knowing their history in carefully balancing consumer trust, privacy and experience on the one hand, and developer tools and flexibility on the other, I expect them to tackle this issue of control in an Apple-like way.

Now, clearly, an iWatch will receive. It will be a screen. And a few months ago I would have imagined that its primary purpose would be to offload push messaging, step tracking, heart rate monitoring, music controls and other functions from the phone to the wrist. (And all of these things will likely be true).

But there’s potentially another paradigm in place – one that will be recognized by those who think long and hard about beacons. Because in addition to being another screen, data capture device and interface controller, I think the real value of an iWatch could come from someplace else.

Because what if, much like beacons, the iWatch was less a receiving screen and instead was more like a broadcaster? What if your watch was, like a beacon, a way to signal to the world around you: “I’m here, and here are the permissions I’m giving you, here are the rules of my being in this space, and if I choose to I’ll share my identity or let you send me messages and communicate.”

In this view, an iWatch (and other future wearables) shouldn’t just be a screen programmed to receive.

It’s a wearable form of identity and intent.

It lets the world know what you want to do today, what kinds of friends you want to say hello to, what kind of relationship you want with the store or the gym, what kind of cashless transactions you want to participate in, and what your rules are for clean, well-lit rooms.

Power, connection, control, a sense of self, a tool to shift the balance from the broadcaster back to the receiver. And maybe it will look cool too.

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