EDITORIAL: I don’t want an iBeacon

In Apple’s latest product reveal, there was a little bit of mention of iBeacons. You probably missed it if you were as frustrated as I was. iBeacons are a low-power technology that is designed to deliver information to your phone when you are nearby. The most commonly used example is walking into the store and getting personalized information about sales and specials.

If you ask me, that’s just going to drive people crazy. When they showed a similar technology in Minority Report the intention was to show how annoying it would be. I suppose I’m jumping to the conclusion that the ads would be loud and obtrusive but how could they not be?

This is just another technology that sounds friendly but will end up doing nothing. Why? Right out of the gate it’s going to be overused, and then people will turn it off. Do you block popups on your browser? Of course! The banner ad industry nearly died before people discovered how to create ads that weren’t so annoying that they drove away customers. I see the exact same thing happening here.

The other thing is that right now iBeacons are for iOS devices only. In this way, they’re like Facetime. Facetime is a superior video conferencing technology but everyone has Skype anyway. Why? Because it’s available on every platform, not just Apple’s. If some Android devices jump on, the technology may have a chance buy more likely, someone else will come up with a copycat technology that’s available for both platforms and that’s what will take off.

The only way iBeacons have a chance of succeeding is if they are implemented slowly and quietly. Oh sure, I’d love to be able to see that the item I’m holding is on sale, but give me that information when I ask, don’t shout it when I walk in the door. iBeacons could also be used for less sinister purposes, such as walking tours in museums or helping you find your way in a hotel or on a cruise ship.

It’s also not really clear what kind of information can be harvested from iBeacons. I mean, they are probably pretty secure but when you live in a world where everything you look at online is tracked by several search providers and the government you have to wonder.

So yeah, just like other technologies I’ve panned, I’m not really keen on iBeacons. They’re a powerful force and I really tend to think that they won’t just be used for good. Let’s hope it’s easy to turn them off.