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WWDC 2014: Apple to reveal exciting new iBeacon plans

Apple will provide plans for iBeacon at its San Francisco World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) tonight, a product promising to do the same for indoor spaces as what GPS did for navigating the outdoors.

iBeacon will allow apps to locate a user to within a few inches of their indoor position. This means an iPhone could direct a driver to the nearest free parking spot in a garage, say, or to the shortest burger queue at the O2 arena.

But ascertaining your geographical location is just the tip of the ice berg. Apple's iBeacon could also allow restaurant diners to pay the bill and leave independent of the waiting staff, or even allow those visiting museums to learn about the exhibits simply by walking past.

The technology works by emitting a low-power Bluetooth signal to smartphones within about 500 feet. These transmitters are called Beacons, and apps on the iPhone respond to those signals so that a retailer can beam a voucher, for example for Cadbury's chocolate, when a shopper is in the appropriate aisle.

By pinning down a user's location, iBeacon apps can begin to guess what that person may need or want to do next, otherwise known as "ambient intelligence."

Still, it's important to stress that the technology is still nascent and may not see widespread adoption for many years. Plus the recent wave of Edward Snowden security panic may give retailers a pause for thought before they adopt beacons in their stores.

This is an issue Apple has been keen to handle with care, aware that many user concerns over being tracked could be raised. Apple claims iBeacon transmitters do not track users because they only send out a signal and don't receive information.

At the moment the technology has a relatively limited audience, deployed in Apple's own stores and a handful of American baseball stadiums. However, Apple is expected to reveal more iBeacon plans at WWDC tonight, where it should also be previewing its now iOS mobile operating system and Mac OSX software.

Keep up to date with all the latest WWDC events as they happen via our liveblog of the event.