Apple could be prepping new iBeacon hardware

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) may be prepping a new product that uses its iBeacon location-aware technology, according to documents recently made public by the FCC.

As 9to5Mac notes, the documents reveal a gadget that is a rounded, hub-like device with a USB port and a clear on and off switch. The documents also show the product is designed to work within Apple's iBeacon ecosystem and is simply called an "Apple iBeacon."

Apple's iBeacon technology uses the Bluetooth LE standard and lets developers create iOS apps that can interact with the technology to get precise location information about users that can then be used in apps. The most common use of this to date has been in retail settings, first in Apple's own stores and then others, to deliver customized messaging and deals to shoppers based on their location within stores or other venues.

There are a few possibilities that Apple could have in testing new iBeacon devices, as 9to5Mac notes. Apple could be designing its own iBeacon hub to replace the third-party beacons it uses in its own stores. Another possibility is that Apple could be prepping its own iBeacon hardware to sell to developers and retailers. Finally, Apple might be using the new hardware as part of its HomeKit home automation platform that will go live with the launch of iOS 8 this fall.

However, as GigaOM notes, there are some holes in those theories. While having a dedicated iBeacon device makes sense in the retail environment, having it be a standalone, USB-powered device could backfire if the device is turned off or moved, which would defeat the purpose of having the iBeacons in dedicated areas of stores.

Further, in the home, Apple could deploy its iBeacon technology into other hardware like AirPort Express Wi-Fi routers, or simply put it into lighting fixtures, according to GigaOM.

Either way, the push to get into the connected home is likely going to continue on multiple fronts. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is reportedly working on a new feature for its Android platform that mirrors many aspects of iBeacon technology, according to a June Android Police report. The report, without citing its sources, indicated that the new feature, called "Nearby," will let enabled devices know when they are near each other, and interact according to the context. Nearby could potentially use audio, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology to authenticate devices.

For more:
- see this 9to5Mac article
- see this VentureBeat article
- see this GigaOM article

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