It’s no secret that Apple has revolutionized our lives in ways nobody could have imagined even twenty years ago. Well, nobody except perhaps Isaac Asimov, the noted science fiction writer, who predicted the iPad and wall-mounted television sets fifty years ago, in 1964. What he didn’t foresee is the unique cultural phenomenon that Apple has become. It’s not just another run of the mill company, it’s one that made a name for itself for its “cute” factor and innovation. Then it failed.
Apple resurrected itself by bringing its creativity to a different market altogether — music players, as far away from computers as you can imagine. That’s where Apple became mainstream.
Then Apple did the unthinkable: it grafted a mobile phone, something it had never been associated with, onto one of its music players. A phone that plays music — nothing that dramatic there. But Blackberry inspired them to take that phone one simple step further, by making it easy to connect to the internet. To do that, they tapped into what they had learned in their failed foray into the computer market: make it easy for software developers to write software for your platform. They did this by opening up the iTunes infrastructure they developed for their music player to those developers.
And, whether by accident or design, Apple was back in the computer business, this time with an entirely different approach — mobile. We know what happened then: mobile computing, spearheaded by Apple, has changed the way people view and use computers. Who would have thought that Apple could persuade the masses to spend $600 for a handheld computer?
But things have grown quiet around Apple since the days before the untimely death of their visionary founder, Steven Jobs. In that quiet, a new sport has developed: guessing what Apple’s Next Big Thing will be. For a while it was a computer-on-a-wristband, because Apple filed for patents for such a device in several countries. The recently announced Samsung Gear Fit seems to have preempted that, though, and now it seems those patents may have been little more than ammunition for the ongoing legal disputes between Apple and Samsung over patents.
So, if a wearable computer is not “it,” what is? Could it be iBeacon, or something around electronic payments? Apple already has a dominant position in payments, because you can’t even begin to use an iPhone or iPad without giving Apple your credit card. Even if you bought the device from them, you have to give them your sensitive payment information again, even if you never spend another dime with them. That’s not nearly as amazing as the fact that hundreds of millions of people have given Apple that information without a second thought. If ever you had any doubt that Mr. Jobs’ real victory was to dominate your thinking into giving him your credit card information, for no other reason than he simply wants it, before he will let you play with that expensive toy you just bought, well, doubt no more. But…
What is this iBeacon technology?
Imagine you want to go to Target. Better leave your credit card at home. But let’s say you see something you want, maybe a nice keyboard for that iPad you can only use with one hand. (And they say Apple’s products are well-designed.) With what will you pay, since you left your credit card at home when you decided to go to Target?
Inside the store, there are WiFi, Bluetooth and NFC (Near Field Communications) receivers and transmitters which latch on to your beloved iPhone without your even knowing it. (Target already latches onto the credit card in your wallet when you walk in the store so they can see where you’ve shopped before coming there.) When you picked up your keyboard, you simply walk past the sensors at the exit and they simply ding your iTunes account as you walk out. If the account linked to iTunes doesn’t have enough money, the door containing the ferocious Dobermans opens automatically and the dogs apprehend you. Just kidding. They’re still working on those details. Here’s a good description of where they are.
If you think this is pie in the sky, think again. Or simply visit your local Apple store, where this is being tested as your eyes slide over these words. If you attended the CES in Las Vegas earlier this year and participated in their scavenger hunt, you would have used the iBeacons they had installed for that purpose. Baseball stadiums will be rolling them out this summer and Macy’s have begun piloting the Bluetooth LE version.
If your iThingie has iOS 7, it’s already geared up to use iBeacons.
Visa and MasterCard are not sitting still as this threat to their dominance over means of payment is threatened. Last month they announced that Android and Blackberry phones can be used instead of your physical card in your wallet, thanks to something called Host Card Emulation (HCE). HCE allows payment card information to be stored in the cloud, letting mobile apps access the information without using the secure element hardware embedded in the phone. You might think that hardware was there for your security. You would be naive, because it turns out that’s little more than a way for your cell phone carrier to control what you can use your phone for. And if there’s someone out there competing with them in any way, then your phone won’t be allowed to complete that transaction. HCE circumvents those politics.
The main difference between iBeacons and the Visa/Mastercard technology is that iBeacon can be used for may more things than payments. For instance, you can have a receiver installed in your home that turns on the lights the moment you enter the home, and turns off any alarms. It may also turn off all those other lights you left on to trick burglars into thinking someone was home. Of course, that assumed the thieves haven’t already stolen someone else’s iPhone and are using other apps to detect whether someone is really at home or just trying to fool them. Gives new meaning to app wars, doesn’t it?
In this enchanting new world you can expect, as always, the bad guys to embrace the new technology faster than you and I, because it puts money in their pocket — at your expense. That’s why you have insurance, and why you know Grant. If you don’t, shame on you. It’s time — get to know him already. 🙂 As new threats emerge, insurance companies develop new and appropriate coverages for those threats. But those coverages aren’t always added automatically.
That’s why it’s a great idea to call once a year for a review of your coverages. After all, you don’t want to be the example a high-tech magazine uses of someone who was outsmarted by tech-savvy thieves while you were reading the newspaper.