iBeacon – Small Device, Huge Potential

20th June 2014

The iBeacon is a revolutionary technology still in its infancy – so much so that software developers across the globe are still trying find a way to make best use of its potential.

What Is An iBeacon?

The iBeacon is a proximity system that interacts with smartphones and tablets. Small units are placed around a space and, when a compatible device comes close, they send out data, which is received as a push notification. While software like Google Maps uses GPS to tell the user where they are to within a few metres, iBeacons are much more accurate. Google Maps can tell you you’re in a shopping mall, but iBeacons will be able to tell you which shop you’re in, which aisle you’re on and which products you’re looking at. They enable people to not only know where they are, but also the context of their surroundings.

Are They Practical?

iBeacons are tiny – about the size of a golf ball. At a recent event in Chicago hosted by Knoll, developers of the Bounce app, iBeacons were stuck to walls, under desks and inside folders. They are wireless, unintrusive and largely unnoticeable. What’s more, they’ll send out data for about two years without needing to replace the battery.

Data is sent by Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which utilises Bluetooth 4.0 – available on most recent Android and Apple handsets. Bluetooth 4.0 allows two devices to interact without being actively paired and unlike NFC, the two devices do not need to be tapped together for the interaction to begin. A phone can receive a notification from an iBeacon from anything between two inches and 50 metres.

 

iBeacon_3SquaredWhat’s In It For The Consumer?

It doesn’t take much to realise how handy iBeacons could be in the worlds of retail and tourism. Imagine wandering through a shop and receiving information about promotions and deals from the things you are near to. Retailers can communicate directly with individual customers as they move through their shop, offering them targeted information and offers in real-time.

At an airport, waiting in line to check-in could be a thing of the past, with iBeacons recognising you’ve arrived at the check-in desk ready for your flight.

The potential use of iBeacons in museums and other attractions is also an attractive proposition, with visitors using their phone to guide them around a space, with pop-up notifications and audio prompts giving them a fuller, more rounded experience.

 

 What’s In It For Business?

Developers are already talking about using iBeacons to provide real-time data on how space is used. The technology would allow for companies to see how many people use a space and for how long, helping them create better, more user-friendly offices, public buildings and homes.

In the construction industry, iBeacons could be used to guide clients, investors and customers around a site. When an individual arrives at a certain point on the site, information about that part of the project would appear on their phones. There is even the potential for images and graphics to be incorporated into an iBeacon tour. Workers on the site could also be informed of changes, warnings and updates to specific areas of the project.

The possibilities are infinite and given the practical benefits using iBeacons could hold, there is no surprise companies are getting so excited about them.