Dec 10

I read an interesting article at NYTimes Blogs about Apple’s Spot-the-Shopper Technology

The article claims that Apple’s system “has had the ability to show the in-store location of a shopper who has come to pick up a purchase”.

How does this work?

I don’t have any insider knowledge of how this system works, so this post is just my speculations. I know that I have very smart readers, so I’m curious to know what you think.

First let’s tackle the easier problem of knowing when a customer arrives at the store. Here are some ideas of this could work.

The Apple Store app could use a mechanism that is similar to the location reindeers in the Reminders app. As soon as the app realizes that the phone is in the vicinity of the Apple Store it sends a message to Apple. GPS is usually not very accurate indoors, but combined with Apple’s database of WiFi hotspots (I’m sure the Apple Store WiFi locations are in their database) it should be accurate enough to provide an alert.
The Apple Store app sends the MAC address of the WiFi network interface in the customer’s device to Apple. As soon as the device tries to connect to the Apple Store network, the MAC address is detected and the system is alerted that the customer has arrived.

Neither mechanism is foolproof. If the customer’s device is in airplane mode, for example, then I can’t think of any mechanism that would work. Since Apple is not advertising this functionality, it doesn’t have to work every time. But each time it does and a customer is delighted by the experience, it’s a win.

Now to the more difficult problem (I think) of locating a customer in the store.

The article shows an iPod touch with a map of the store and locations of people who have requested help highlighted in red.

For iPads with “help buttons” that are part of the store’s fixed display, it’s of course easy to place them on a map and highlight the location when someone asks for help.

But what about customers who have arrived to pick up a purchase? I can’t imagine that GPS is accurate enough inside a store inside a mall to pinpoint a customer.

I wonder if it’s possible for the WiFi access points inside the store to triangulate the location of a given MAC address with enough precision?

Have you experienced this system first hand? Were the Apple employees able to find you in the crowd?

Comments are open.

written by Nick \\ tags: