Apple’s Failed Retail Revolution: Beacons Still Won’t Be Big on Black Friday

Apple's Failed Retail Revolution: Beacons Still Won't Be Big on Black Friday

Hari Gottipati, an independent tech consultant, saw the future of shopping in 2013. In its annual update to the software for its mobile devices, Apple had just made it possible for its phones to allow super-precise location services-and that would be a major coup for the staid world of coupons.

While the global positioning system on your phone could reveal a particular store’s location closest to you, this new technology would go much farther. Advertisers would be able to determine exactly which aisle you are in. A merchant would need only beacons capable of communicating with the Bluetooth Low Energy technology on an iPhone, and shoppers would almost magically receive cereal coupons for the very boxes they happened to be viewing at that moment.

Consultant Gottipati advised retailers to get on board. Two years later, it doesn’t look as if many stores took his advice. “I go to a lot of malls, but I don’t see as many beacons as I expected,” he said. “It’s very disappointing.” Gottipati still favors the technology, which he now believes will be adopted more readily inside smart homes. There, beacons might turn off the lights when it senses that someone has left a room.

“People-associating it with Apple-expected it to work out of the box.”

(Also see:  With iBeacon, Apple aims to guide you inside its stores and, soon, everywhere)

As the annual orgy of holiday shopping officially kicks off this week, many people who shared Gottipati’s enthusiasm two years ago echo his disappointment. A survey conducted by Forrester earlier this year found that only 3 percent of retailers use beacons; just 16 percent had plans to try the technology in the foreseeable future. When Reveal Mobile, an analytics company, did a census of beacons in US retail stores this spring, it found that Apple’s own stores accounted for about 15 percent of the existing beacons.

Companies that sell beacons and related services to retailers struggle to point to big success stories, even as boosters insist that the technology is on the verge of success. For the people who run startups such as Shopkick, InMarket, or Estimote, which are based on bets that beacons will soon be everywhere, the issue is more expectations than results. Sure, the startups admit, it’s been slow going, so far. But over the summer, both Facebook and Google announced new programs for their own beacons, joining Apple as tech giants behind the technology.

“They’re not ubiquitous yet, but they will be ubiquitous in a couple of years,” said Todd DiPaola, chief executive officer of InMarket. “Facebook shows this isn’t a fad.”

Part of the problem, in fact, might stem from Apple’s association with the public introduction of beacons. Steve Cheney, co-founder of Estimote, would prefer that everyone see Apple’s iBeacon effort as a mere developer protocol, not a finished product to transform shopping. “People-associating it with Apple-expected it to work out of the box, so to speak,” he said. “It is happening at about the pace we expected.”

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The power of smartphones has tempted observers to predict other shopping revolutions that have yet to materialize.There was a moment when QR codes were thought to be on the verge of societal importance. The allure of mobile payments, the next big thing for years, was renewed with the release of Apple Pay last year; today people again question the underlying assumption that people need a more efficient payment form than a credit-card swipe.

Retail is an industry of fads. It has yet to be proven that beacons will be anything more than one of them. “Much of this chatter exists in a marketing-driven echo chamber,” wrote Krista Garcia, an analyst for EMarketer, in a report in August. “Real- world retail applications are sparse, and retailers’ test results have been kept under wraps, which could imply they aren’t worth bragging about.”

A basic question faces beacon boosters that’s familiar to pretty much every kind of advertising: Is the service just doing something advertisers crave, but which fails to inspire shoppers? Beacon companies insist they’re capable of connecting with consumers. Shopkick, a startup that operates beacons in such stores as Macy’s and American Eagle, says it recently ran a campaign that rewarded customers with loyalty points for visiting a dressing room in the store; the assumption is that people who tried something on would be more likely to make a purchase. This made people more than twice as likely to visit the dressing rooms, according to Shopkick.

Other companies say that location-specific coupons sent in conjunction with beacons are far more likely to be used than other marketing offers. At the same time, customers seem to have a very low tolerance for such messages. InMarket found that people basically stop using any app that sent them more than one message.

Even if you assume that people want their phones to light up with deals, several barriers face beacons. Customers must be willing to download an app that is set up to communicate with the beacons. This often means an app from retailers, hardly the most popular category in any app store. Some beacon companies have started using more popular apps such as Epicurious as gateways. At a more basic level, however, beacons can be received only by smartphone users who have activated Bluetooth, and surveys vary dramatically as to how many people have done this.

Nearly every startup that traffics in beacons claims to have retail partners that are using their technology without being willing to admit they’re doing so. While there’s reason to see this as a sign that results have been disappointing, another possibility remains: Some retailers might prefer to use beacons for something besides advertising. The technology can also assist in what people in the industry refer to as analytics-what normal people might recognize as surveillance.

Among clients of, a company that sells beacons, data collection is more popular than advertising. “It’s exactly like a loyalty card,” said Trevor Longino, head of marketing. Some clients are hesitant to bring much attention to these practices, he said, even though the company has permission to collect information. “Because it is a new technology,” Longino added, “it carries more fears.”


PF May be Withdrawn Online from August, Says EPFO Official

PF May be Withdrawn Online from August, Says EPFO OfficialNew Delhi: Retirement fund body EPFO may launch by August an online facility to withdraw provident fund, a move that will reduce paperwork and provide hassle-free service to its subscribers.

With the new facility, settling PF withdrawal claims would just take few hours.

“We are hopeful of launching an online facility for PF withdrawal claims by August this year. We have already digitised our records and processes using Oracle operating system,” a senior EPFO official told PTI.

“EPFO will soon buy blade servers for setting up three Central Data Centres at Gurgaon, Dwarka (Delhi) and Secunderabad. All the three centres will be connected to 123 offices of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO),” he said.

The process of procuring servers would be completed by May while the testing would start in June to gauge the response of the system in place.

“After intensive testing and trials in June and July, we are planning to launch the online PF withdrawal facility in August this year,” the official said.

Once this is operational, subscribers can apply online for PF withdrawal, which will be transferred directly to their bank accounts.

At present, subscribers who wish to settle their accounts with the EPFO are required to apply manually.

For settling online claims, the subscribers would have to activate their Universal (portable PF) Account Numbers which are seeded with KYC details including bank accounts, Aadhaar number and permanent account number.

The EPFO has over five crore subscribers. As many as 6.15 crore UANs were issued by EPFO out of which 2.34 crore were activated by the subscribers so far.

Apple’s iPhone Success May Be Reaching Its Peak

Apple's iPhone Success May Be Reaching Its PeakApple could soon face one of its biggest challenges to date: Peak iPhone.

Most analysts believe Apple surpassed its own record by selling more than 74.5 million units of its flagship product in the final three months of 2015. But there are signs that iPhone sales in the first three months of 2016 will – for the first time ever – show an abrupt decline from the same period a year earlier.

That could mark a pivotal moment for the Silicon Valley giant. Apple is the world’s biggest company, in terms of stock value, thanks to the iPhone’s surging popularity around the world. In business terms, Apple makes most of its money from iPhone sales.

But concerns about slowing growth have sent the stock into a months-long slump, fueling debate about what kind of company Apple will be in the future.

The iPhone contributed nearly two-thirds of Apple’s $234 billion (roughly Rs. 15,92,050 crores) in revenue last year. None of the other new products Apple has launched in recent years have emerged as blockbusters. That’s led some critics to suggest Apple has lost its innovative touch, while others say it’s evolving to depend on a broader base of related tech products and services.

One thing is clear, said analyst Angelo Zino at S&P Capital IQ: “Last year was an unprecedented year forApple and the iPhone…. You’ll never see that type of growth from the iPhone again.”

(Also see:  iPhone Sales in India Grew 76 Percent, Says Apple CFO)

When CEO Tim Cook reports Tuesday on Apple’s sales for the last three months of 2015, investors will be watching closely for any hints about how Apple’s signature smartphone is faring in the current quarter. Sales usually fall somewhat after the holiday shopping season. But analysts say it appears Apple has cut production orders from key suppliers in recent weeks, suggesting it’s lowered its own forecasts.

Apple hasn’t commented on iPhone sales since last fall, when Cook struck an upbeat tone. In part, Zino and other experts say, the company is suffering from its own success. Apple sold 61 million iPhones in the March quarter of 2015, or 40 percent more than it did a year earlier. To match that growth rate, Apple would need to sell more than 85 million in the current period. Instead, analysts are expecting around 55 million.

(Also see:  iPhone Sales Decline Signalled by Fewer Orders at Apple Suppliers)

An estimated 500 million people own iPhones now, which means Apple can rely on a significant number to upgrade each year. But some have put off buying a new model because they didn’t see a strong reason to upgrade.

Despite some new features, “people are feeling like there hasn’t been anything that’s really new” in the latest iPhone models, known as the 6s and 6s Plus, which came out last fall, said market researcher John Feland of Argus Insights.

Apple will likely make significant changes in the next major iPhone release, expected in September, which could fuel another surge in sales. Some tech blogs have reported a new model might even be coming this spring.

The company went through a similar cycle a few years ago, when iPhone sales growth slowed to 7 percent in the final months of 2013. The next year, Apple introduced new models with significantly bigger screens. That sent sales skyrocketing, especially in Asia, where consumers had previously flocked to buy big-screen phones from rival Samsung.

But there may no more equally dramatic changes left to jump-start sales like that again. “Apple really pulled the big lever they had left un-pulled, up to then,” said tech analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research. “That was sort of a one-off event.”

While iPhone sales may be slowing, Apple has launched other products and services tied to the iPhone – from the Apple Watch to the digital payments service known as Apple Pay, the subscription-basedApple Music and “smart home” software that lets users control their lights and appliances with Siri, the voice-enabled digital assistant on the iPhone and iPad. These are designed to make the iPhone itself more useful, while producing a steady stream of new revenue.

None of those new products have sold like the iPhone itself, however. Sales of the iPad have been declining for two years.

“Apple still has a lot of value, a lot of cash flow, so it’s not to say the company is in trouble. But it’s difficult to say that it’s on the cutting edge,” said Murillo Campello, a finance professor at Cornell University who follows Apple closely.

Others say it’s premature to count Apple among former tech giants, like Hewlett-Packard, that have struggled for relevance as their pace of growth and innovation declined.

Apple is working on a wide range of future products, from streaming video to virtual reality and even self-driving cars, said FBR Capital Markets’ analyst Daniel Ives in a recent note to clients.

“Apple’s often surprised us with what they end up doing,” added Dawson.


Why 3D Video Games Might Actually Be Good for Your Child

Why 3D Video Games Might Actually Be Good for Your Child

The late film critic Roger Ebert famously declared that video games could never be art, much to the outrage of die-hard gamers everywhere. While the artistic value of classics like ‘Portal’ or ‘Doom’ continues to be a matter of debate, another group of skeptics about the value of video games – namely medical researchers – are starting to come around to the idea that becoming engrossed in the virtual world of a video game may have value beyond pure fun.

Recent research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science has found evidence that playing certain video games can be like exercise for the brain.

Studies from the past decade have found that individuals who frequently play action games like first-person shooters outperform non-gamers on a variety of perceptual and cognitive measures – visual acuity, decision-making, object tracking, and task switching to name a few. Even players of casual video games, such as ‘Bejeweled Blitz’ or ‘Candy Crush Saga,’ report memory improvements and quicker response time as a result.

Now, researchers have discovered that playing 3D video games – those that immerse the player in a three-dimensional world with a more true-to-life, first-person perspective – may boost memory and stimulate the brain.

A new study published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, trained college students with either a simple 2D game (‘Angry Birds’) or an intricate 3D game (‘Super Mario 3D World’). The subjects had little to no experience with video games before the experiment, and were instructed to play for a half-hour per day for two weeks. After the training period, the groups took memory tests designed to activate the brain’s hippocampus, which is highly involved in the formation of new memories and becomes stimulated when navigating an unfamiliar environment.

“It’s sometimes called explicit or declarative memory, but what it really comes down to is your ability to remember details of things that have happened to you – and that’s where the hippocampus comes in,” said study author Craig Stark, professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California at Irvine.

For instance, structural MRI studies have found significantly larger cortical volume in the posterior hippocampi of London cab drivers – individuals with extensive navigation experience with first-hand knowledge of tens of thousands of streets – relative to control subjects. Stark and his colleagues wanted to determine whether exploration of a virtual world would lead to similar effects in the hippocampus through the use of a 3D video game.

The group that played ‘Super Mario 3D World’ improved their scores by about 12 percent after the two-week training, with performance correlating with the amount of exploration achieved in the game’s environment, while the 2D ‘Angry Birds’ cohort showed no significant progress. To get an idea of the magnitude of this boost, a typical score on these memory tasks has been seen to drop the same amount from ages 45 to 70.

“The amount that we were able to boost people’s memory performance by playing video games represents about 20 to 30 years of cognitive decline,” Stark explained in an interview. “But it would be the sort of thing that would require constant maintenance, like going to the gym. If you work out really hard for a month, that’s great – but it won’t last the rest of your life.”

Indeed, after two weeks of no gaming, the boost in memory performance seen in 3D gamers had already started to dissipate. But Stark, whose research focuses on how the circuitry of the hippocampus changes with age, plans to further investigate how video games and other stimulating, enriching experiences can help ward off cognitive aging in an older population whose memory is on the decline.

“I don’t necessarily think there’s anything magical about 3D games themselves,” he said. “I think they’re tapping into a lot of things – they’re complex, fun, engaging and immersive – and I think that’s what is really driving [the improvements in memory].”

While specific brain training games do exist to supposedly build up memory or concentration, Stark believes that more broad-spectrum approaches like complex video games, language classes, or even traveling abroad, may be more beneficial for brain health. Living a “cognitively engaged lifestyle” as he calls it, that also captivates our imagination and sense of wonder is a natural way to draw on a number of different brain processes and potentially improve functioning as a result.