Since Apple very subtly launched iBeacon at the WWDC back in 2013 (wrapped in the OS7 release) we have seen a huge number of enquiries to incorporate the iBeacon technology into existing Apps or create custom made solutions using this refined Bluetooth technology. Based on the unprecented interest and general buzz (particularly coming out of the large retailers) I thought it well worth a blog to have a closer look at the technology and what it can (and will) bring to the market.
What is iBeacon?
The technology allows data to be transferred from a mobile wireless sensor (aka the Beacon) to a mobile device using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). iBeacon is specifically the brand name Apple have wrapped around the product although Beacons themselves using BLE have been around a while. The mobile device must have Beacon capability integrated both into the hardware of the device & the Operating system in is running. For example an iPhone 5s running OS 7.0 will be iBeacon compatible out of the box.
To put the technology into a real life scenario assume an iPhone 5s user wonders into a retail outlet that has installed beacons throughout their store. As soon as the user enters the beacon zone (which can be as much 50 meters away) the beacon can be controlled to push special offers, promotions, cross/up sell material directly to the users devices. Now some might question if this is just location based spam which too be fair it could be, however beacons offer a lot more benefits than just marketing opportunities. Beacons can also accept payments allowing a user to conclude a transaction without needing to go close to check out or scanning terminal.
[tmm_video type=”youtube” width=”600″ height=”300″ sc_id=”sc1399553577614″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUIqfjpInxY&feature=youtu.be[/tmm_video]
An added bonus of beacons is micro-location geofencing. GPS can be notoriously unreliable especially when trying to pinpoint users locations in-building. GPS signals generally have problems getting through Steel and mobile signals (particularly on the higher spectrum bandwidths) are so poor, so up until now its been very difficult for apps to accurately locate & direct users within large structures. With Beacons micro-locations, a devices GPS location can be easily found allowing users to be directed, tracked or navigated through massive structures (think shopping centres, airports, supermarkets).
[blockquote sc_id=”sc1399552231089″]As app developers we get a pretty good view of technology trends and where market is moving and we have no doubt that high street retailers are seeing the huge benefit beacon technology can provide[/blockquote]
How do iBeacons differ to Near field Communication (NFC) ?
Conceptually the 2 technologies are similar however Apple’s reluctance to adopt NFC someway has led to its static position in the market. Beacon range is much greater in comparison to NFC where essentially devices need to be bumped close (within a couple of inches) to terminals (think Oyster cards on the London Underground). NFC requires physical NFC Tags to transmit data where as beacons can do this wirelessly over a greater distance. iBeacons are also more cost effective. One of the main suppliers of beacons Esimote is currently offering orders of 3 beacons for $99. At that kind of price point smaller businesses as well as the larger retailers can take up the technology without huge capital investment into hardware.
The User Experience
When I first looked at early prototypes and beta apps using beacons my initial thought was the impact on the user experience by way of spammy marketing messages being sent directly to users as they innocently browsed around their local supermarket. As we got got underneath the technology users have to turn on Bluetooth, they must accept location services on the relevant app and most importantly can be given the opportunity to opt-in to receive in-store or indoor notifications.
Marketing aside we recently worked with a US Airport on a beacon trial whereby targeted notifications are pushed to users based on their proximity in the airport. The app allowed the user to register their flight details and receive updates & directions to gates directly to their handset. Most interestingly the airport for the first time began to see footfall patterns of how travellers moved around the airport, which shops they visited, where they ate and even how long it took to get through security.
As app developers we get a pretty good view of technology trends and where market is moving and we have no doubt that high street retailers are seeing the huge benefit beacon technology can provide. Macy’s, Tesco & Waitrose are all in advanced trials and 2014 will see beacon adoption grow at unprecedented rates. Personally I think companies who take up this technology must get the balance right between maintaining a good user experience & being an effective tool to push information out to their users.
Either way its is yet another tool in an App Developers arsenal to create unique and memorable experiences. Got a good idea for iBeacon or looking to incorporate it into your existing app? Contact us here or drop a comment below.