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Apple begins using iBeacons at all its 254 US retail stores

Apple on Friday will launch its iBeacon wireless short-range technology at all 254 retail stores the company owns across the U.S., helping customers to shop for new items, or pick up an order they've already placed.

The iBeacon feature is already baked into the official Apple Store application for iOS, and will be unlocked for users visiting a retail location starting today. The company demonstrated the technology this week to the Associated Press at its flagship Fifth Avenue store in the heart of New York City.

At the famous "cube" store, Apple has 20 iBeacon transmitters installed to help guide customers. Some of the transmitters are apparently just iPhones and iPads that communicate with users' devices as they walk about the store.

"The beacons can be adjusted to specific distances, so you may get some notifications regardless of where you are inside," the report said. "Others will come only when you are standing at a particular aisle, wall or product demo table. The store can also send out notifications about deals or upcoming events."

Apple apparently has high hopes for iBeacons, giving reporters possible future uses such as providing information on subway train delays, or offering access to in-depth information on art pieces in a museum.

In order to test iBeacons at an Apple retail location, users must have the official Apple Store app installed, and they must have Bluetooth enabled. Users must also allow the app to access their iPhone's location data, and for the app to send them push notifications. Upon entering a store, the app will switch to an "in-store mode."

Friday's rollout is the largest application of iBeacon technology yet, though it is not the first. Macy's began testing the state-of-the-art Bluetooth-based location system last month at its New York City and San Francisco locations through a third-party app called Shopkick, providing customers with product information and special discounts.

This week, a startup digital publishing company called Exact Editions announced it is utilizing iBeacons to provide users with free access to paid Newsstand applications, allowing users to sample magazines and newspapers when they visit a specific location. And Major League Baseball has already announced plans to roll out iBeacon support at its parks starting next season.