One thing I notice in the fast-moving mobile payment space is the constant struggle for accuracy. In this case, I don't exclusively refer to location-based accuracy (though we will get to that momentarily) as much as the struggle over the literal meaning of words.
Case in point: iBeacon. When word began spreading about Apple's iBeacon last fall, many observers proclaimed the technology would supplant Near Field Communications as a mobile payment medium. But that's apples-and-oranges.
The iBeacon (and PayPal's Beacon, which rolled out about the same time) are not, of themselves, a technology. They are but an extension of Bluetooth Low Energy, which has been around for almost a decade.
BLE and NFC each have several use cases, but they're not the same sort of use cases. Think of it this way: Cellular communications provide wireless coverage with a footprint measured in miles; WiFi's footprint is measured in yards; BLE's is measured in feet; and NFC's in centimeters.
As this infographic illustrates, a BLE beacon is great for passively enabling a retailer's mobile app to deliver promotions, coupons or offers direct to the consumer's smartphone when the consumer is in the general vicinity. NFC can't do that. But if you want to research a specific Nikon SLR, for example, you can scan an NFC-enabled shelf tag next to it and study to your heart's content. BLE can't deliver that much location granularity.
To illuminate these two technologies, we developed this infographic in partnership with Pyrim Technologies. Read about it and debate it – and remember, while it's instructive to parse the finer points of BLE and NFC, it's not an either-or proposition. It's about choosing the right technology to appropriately address a specific business need.
Cary Stemle has more than 20 years of experience in print and online journalism, covering business, public affairs, politics, sports, arts and culture and more. He has a bachelor's degree in history and an associate's degree in journalism from Indiana University Southeast. He joined Mobile Payments Today in July 2013.