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Sometimes the biggest changes in technology have the smallest beginnings. In the summer of 2013, Apple announced iBeacon, a nerdy-sounding feature of its new operating system that would “provide apps a whole new level of location awareness”.
It’s taken a few months to appear in the real world, but from CES to grocery stores – and, of course, Apple’s shops themselves – iBeacon now seems to be popping up everywhere.
What is iBeacon?
It’s a new technology developed by Apple, built into its operating systems and devices since 2013, and it may “change the world forever”, according to the Washington Post.
The technology lets businesses set up transmitters which can tell nearby smartphones of their presence. It may not sound like much, but combined with the right software, it opens up a massive number of possibilities.
With iBeacon set up, shops could send customers special offers for goods they are walking past, prepare pre-ordered items for pickup the minute someone comes through the door (the end of queueing!) or remind the customer about their shopping list – fish when they are standing at the fish counter, bread at the bakery, and so on.
And it can be used in more than just retail. Nomi, a New York-based firm which specialises in these sort of set-ups, has worked with theme parks, concert venues and stadiums, as well as restaurants and car companies.
In December, Bar Kick, a table-football-themed Shoreditch coffee shop, became one of the first in Britain to implement the technology, giving away free copies of music magazine Dazed & Confused and football magazine When Saturday Comes, but only to patrons actually inside the cafe.
Dr Dre’s headphones brand Beats will launch its Beats Music streaming music service on 21 January in the US, competing with Spotify, Rhapsody and Google Play Music All Access.
The company has been working on the service for more than a year, having hired Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor as chief creative officer, and digital music industry veteran Ian Rogers as chief executive at the start of 2013.
In December, Rogers had promised that Beats Music would launch in January, but over the weekend the company confirmed the date, price, initial distribution partners and more details on how the service will try to differentiate itself from the competition, although for now, it will only be available in the US.
Unlike Spotify, there will be no free element to Beats Music beyond an initial 30-day free trial. Subscribers will pay $9.99 a month for unlimited access to a catalogue of more than 20m songs through apps on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices, as well as a website for desktop access.
US mobile operator AT&T Wireless will be on board for the launch, with customers on a “multiline” account able to pay $14.99 a month to get Beats Music for up to five family members and 10 devices, including an extended 90-day free trial. Retailer Target will also promote the service through gift cards sold in its stores.
The key selling point for Beats Music is curation, with Beats executives including Rogers and parent company Beats Electronics’ CEO Jimmy Iovine having spent the last year promising to outdo their rivals with their quality of music recommendations.
Beats has hired a team of editorial staff from backgrounds including radio and journalism to curate music playlists, while also partnering with Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, DJ Mag and Country Weekly, among other media brands, to provide their own selections.
Customers will also get a “personalised selection of albums and playlists” delivered four times a day, with more recommendations based on their location, activity, surroundings and musical preferences, as Beats aims to make context one of its key features.
“Beats Music combines the emotion only a human created playlist can give you with the best personalisation technology can deliver,” said Rogers in a statement. “With this you get not just the music experience only a talented DJ or music expert can deliver, but also the right one for you right now.”