iBeacons and the future of mobile payments

With the launch of iOS8, it’s a good time to ask if Apple’s technology has been a success and what iBeacons mean for the future of payments.

iBeacons were a big part of Apple’s launch of iOS7 last September, but experimentation with the technology has remained in early stages. With the launch of iOS8, it’s a good time to ask whether Apple’s technology has been a success, and what iBeacons mean for the future of payments.

iBeacons are a Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technology that provide location-based information and services to iPhones and other iOS devices. They provide a low cost & widely accepted method to interact with smartphone users.

By their nature they’re opt-in, so won’t do much unless the smartphone user has the corresponding app downloaded on their device.

Once a smartphone user has downloaded an app though, it can be used for a variety of use cases:

  • Assistance: Request for help (e.g. I would like to talk to someone in this branch about mortgages)
  • Service: To notify of presence (e.g. I am here for my personal loan review)
  • Navigation: To provide directions (e.g. the financial advisor’s desk is up the stairs on the left)
  • Data: To capture analytics (e.g. to test where the best place for in branch brochureware or adverts may be)
  • Offers: To push marketing messages to customers at appropriate points in the customer journey to enable cross sell (e.g. to promote a low FX payment card to customers buying foreign currency)

Another area, where the technology gets really exciting is in mobile payments. There are emerging examples of iBeacons being used to enable payment at via point-of-sale.

Here at Intelligent Environments we recently attended the Zapp Hackathon, in which our team built a fully functioning iOS and Android app called ZappTheTab, which uses iBeacons together with Zapp’s mobile payment technology. ZapptheTab is a bill-splitter app that enables a whole table to order at the same time whilst also sharing items such as bottles of wine or platters. Using an iBeacon on each table, the app figures out exactly how much individuals owe to the overall bill and, crucially, lets individuals pay for their own share directly from the app.  

While iBeacons are still very much in the early stages, experimentation has been promising. Whether it will truly change the way in which we all pay for goods in shops or find our way around shops remains to be seen. All we know for now is that iBeacons are being implemented in new and innovative ways. With iOS8 now you’ll likely see more of them.

How do you think financial services institutions will use iBeacons?