iBeacon is a protocol developed by Apple and introduced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013. Various vendors have since made iBeacon-compatible hardware transmitters – typically called beacons – a class of Bluetooth low energy (BLE) devices that broadcast their identifier to nearby portable electronic devices. The technology enables smartphones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon. iBeacon is based on Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing by transmitting a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system.
iBeacon can also be used with an application as an indoor positioning system, which helps smartphones determine their approximate location or context. With the help of an iBeacon, a smartphone's software can approximately find its relative location to an iBeacon in a store. Brick and mortar retail stores use the beacons for mobile commerce, offering customers special deals through mobile marketing, and can enable mobile payments through point of sale systems. iBeacon differs from some other location-based technologies as the broadcasting device (beacon) is only a 1-way transmitter to the receiving smartphone or receiving device, and necessitates a specific app installed on the device to interact with the beacons. This ensures that only the installed app (not the iBeacon transmitter) can track users, potentially against their will, as they passively walk around the transmitters.