An Intro On Beacon Technology and iBeacons

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  • March 19, 2014
Beacon and iBeacon technology

You may have already heard of the term ‘Beacon’ or ‘iBeacon’, or maybe you are just hearing about it for the first time.

Whether your first time or 80th hearing about them, Beacons are projected to have a big influence on people’s daily lives and in particular, a very big influence on a retailers’ way of doing business.

It began somewhat in the summer of 2013 when Apple announced iBeacon – their own proprietary version of Beacon technology.

Here is a quick primer on Beacon technology in general.

What is iBeacon and Beacon technology?

iBeacon and other Beacon devices are a low-cost piece of hardware — small enough to attach to a wall or countertop— that utilize battery-friendly low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet.

The beacons come in different formats, including small coin cell powered devices, USB sticks and software versions and are now being manufactured by a few large companies (PayPal, Qualcomm, Apple) as well as a few upstarts (Estimote, Swirl, and GPShopper).

They act as indoor positioning systems that are able to send notifications to devices in close proximity.  The actual tracking is done in software on the customer’s phone which determines its location using triangulation; if Beacon #5243 is 20m away, Beacon #3915 is 5m away, and Beacon #4590 is 50m away, then the customer must be in the cereal aisle.

iBeacon specifically is Apple Inc.’s version of their proprietary beacon technology that they call “a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 devices of their presence.”

How does it work?

Beacons operate by transmitting a signal to your mobile device via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), also known as Bluetooth Smart.  They create a signal around whatever region you choose and the device is alerted via Bluetooth technology when users enter the zone. Beacons help users find their way around a crowded store, to a particular location, and even deliver ads to customers.

In order for a customer to engage with Beacons, they must download the mobile application for the particular space that is using Beacons.  For example, a shopping mall app, a particular retailer’s app, a museum app etc.

A general example of how this all works is someone walks into their favourite retailer and already have that retailer’s app on their device.  With Beacons, the customer’s phone automatically receives a list of that day’s specials or sales.  It can then direct the customer to the particular isle or section of the store for that particular special.

Conversely, if a customer is in a particular section of a store, Beacons could send them a message about an offer or special that they are standing close to.

Beacons can also be used to enable payments at the point of sale (POS), so you don’t need to remove your wallet or card to make a payment.

 

Projected use cases

With Beacons, shops could send customers special offers for goods they are walking past, prepare pre-ordered items for pickup the minute someone comes through the door (the end of queueing!) or remind the customer about their shopping list – fish when they are standing at the fish counter, bread at the bakery, and so on.

Retailers will be also able to offer track which aisles shoppers linger in the longest, which will help retailers with future suggestions for those shoppers.

This can also be used at places like airports, train stations and so on, whereby commuters might get information on subway delays as they stand on the platform.

As an example, Major League Baseball already plans to use iBeacon this year to customize fans’ experiences at its ballparks, through the At The Ballpark app. In a demo in 2013, MLB officials showed how the app can offer special features based on users’ location in a stadium, such as coupons in the souvenir shop or a video that plays near landmarks.

Interested in Beacons? Curious as to how they can fit in to your business or help your business? Give us a call!

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