Apple Airpods Improves Beacon Technology Use Cases At Airports

Apple Airpods Bluetooth Beacon Technology at the airport

Apple released its first in-house wireless headphone dubbed AirPods in 2016 as part of its annual September product showcase. The AirPods have been selling out in multiple markets around the world and opened up new use cases for airports to adopt beacon technology on its premises. We will explore these use cases and how these headphones can further improve seamless travel experience.


Apple Airpods


Technology Specification

Apple AirPods Technology and Specification
Apple AirPods Technology and Specification (Image Source: Apple)


Apple Airpods have been designed from the grounds up and incorporate the following technologies:

  • W1 chip – in-house design to quickly pair the headphones to all Apple devices whenever bluetooth is enabled. The chip also achieves a better Bluetooth range (version 4.1 is employed), longer battery life and facilities quicker charging.
  • Dual beam-forming microphones – to improve quality of sound, dictation and sound transmission
  • Dual optical sensors – to track light absorption
  • Motion-detecting accelerometer – to track motion for exercising, games, wayfinding
  • Speech-detecting accelerometer – to work with Siri and phone calls


System Requirements

  • iPhone, iPad and iPod touch models (eligible models) with iOS 10 or later
  • Apple Watch models (eligible models) with watchOS 3 or later
  • Mac models with macOS Sierra or later


Quick tests between the similarly specified headphones with and without the W1 chip have shown that those with the silicon inside have an optimal range extended by between 120 to 320%+ while their maximize range improved between 60% to 220%+.

Marketshare Analysis

Apple AirPods entrance to the marketplace highlighted the continued trend of wireless headphones replacing the corded ones in the sale front. The move can be partially attributed to Apple’s elimination of the headphone jack on iPhone 6S/iPhone 6S Plus in 2016. By December 2016 when the AirPods went on sale, wireless jumped to over 75% of online sales.  Total sales in the United States were also at its highest point in the past 24 months ahead of Black Friday.


Corded vs Wireless Headphone Market share 2015 to 2016
Corded vs Wireless Headphone Market share 2015 to 2016 (Data Source: Slice Intelligence)


The same data intelligence company also looked into how market share shifted since Apple AirPods went on sale.  With only appropriately one month of data, Apple was able to gain 26% market share in the wireless headphone category. While these sales cannibalized its own subsidiary Beats, total market share from both improved from 24.1% to a dominating 41.4% based on unit sales.  With up to 1 billion wireless headphones to be sold worldwide from 2015-2020, Apple would have a leg up on the competition on both units and profits.


Apple Airpods Wireless Market Share
Apple Airpods Wireless Market Share (Data Source: Slice Intelligence)

Bluetooth and Beacon Technologies At The Airport

Like other wireless headphones, Apple AirPods employ Bluetooth technology for pairing and data transmission. When the technology was first introduced, many users turned off Bluetooth as it was deemed as a battery hog. Version 4.0 brought a long significant improvement over range and energy use which allowed for minimal impact in battery use.  For the AirPods to work effectively, Bluetooth is enabled by default. The higher rate of engagement based on default settings will allow airports with beacon technology to build and improve use cases for travellers. According to ABI Research, beacon shipments are estimated to be at 565 million with a compound annual growth rate of 133% in the five years up to 2021.

Current Use Cases

Most airports are using beacon technology in the following areas: flow management, marketing and wayfinding (Related insight on how specific airlines and airports deploy beacon technologies currently).

  1. Flow management – Airport can monitor how many travellers are entering and exiting a specific point (e.g. security lanes). This data can be published for aid travellers in planning when to head to the airport and for staff deployment. The solution in combination with motion sensors can also be deployed to determine how many spaces are available at a given parking lot.
  2. Marketing – Airports can track an approximate location of travellers and offer personalized promotions and marketing contents though their mobile applications based on dwell time at a particular spot.
  3. Wayfinding – Airports can locate and assist passengers to navigate around the premises. Typically used for navigating to gates.


Extended Use Cases

With more Bluetooth devices available in the tracking pool, there are more reasons for airlines and airports to invest in beacon technology which would further reduce implementation and maintenance costs while improve traveller experience and revenue potential . The following are some extended use cases for the technology that can be deployed:

  1. Apple and Google can extend their digital personal assistants (Siri and Google Now/GoogleAssistant) with features to provide travellers with reactive voice activated wayfinding instructions based on beacons’ locations (Related insight on Google’s I/O 2017 technologies that matter to travellers). This is a better solution than requesting travellers to hold their phones in front of them to follow instructions on their mobile applications.
  2. Airlines and airports can use additional data points to improve scheduling, gate and space utilization. For example, they would be able to work together to find the best way possible for a traveller to reach a gate, to connect between flights and to reduce the travel time between airline lounge and gate area.
  3. Airports can improve non-aeronautical revenue streams within the retail environment with the right mix of shop and food establishments based on traffic and flight data
  4. In combination with other technologies like heatseeking, QR codes and RFID, airports can transform themselves into personalized experience zones.
  5. More accurate passengers’ location can aid airports’ automated robots or vehicles from collusions.


To End

Apple’s introduction of AirPods to the marketplace further expands adaption of Bluetooth technology which has a positive impact to beacon technology. Airlines and airports can use this additional reach to enhance or introduce new use cases to expand their ancillary and non-aeronautical revenue streams.

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