The ‘iBeacon’ is Apple’s recent product which uses location-sensing technology to help extend location services within the iOS operating system. For example, with the help of an iBeacon an iOS device or other hardware can alert its (location based) apps when a user leaves or enters a certain location. Also, when a user is getting closer to a specific location (e.g. a store checkout) a user’s app can work out the proximity to that location.
Currently, a large number of devices still use latitude and longitude to work out a location. The iBeacon uses bluetooth signals instead. More specifically, the iBeacon works on Bluetooth Low Energy which means that the power used is considerably less compared to ‘traditional’ bluetooth signals.
The question arises how this location-based technology can best be used. Let’s look at some potential use cases:
- Enhancing your shopping experience – Companies like Sonic Notify and Estimote specialise in so-called “proximity based marketing”; people will get targeted alerts on their smartphones whenever they enter a certain area (see Fig. 1 below). Another great example in this respect is shopBeacon which can welcome a shopper when he/she enters a store and show the shopper location-specific deals, discounts, recommendations, and rewards, without the shopper having to remember to open the app. Equally, if a shopper likes a specific product in the app, shopBeacon can remind him/her when she enters the store that sells it (see Fig. 2 below).
- Linking digital content to the physical world – You won’t need an iBeacon every meter or so to figure out where a person is located. As explained in this great article in Wired, you can have a number of beacons quietly triangulating your position at distances anywhere from 100 feet down to just a few inches. This technology opens the door for a range of new digital experiences based on so-called “microlocation”. A good example is the “Bar Kick” pub in London where certain magazines will become available automatically and for free via Apple’s “Newsstand” as long as you’re in range of the pub’s iBeacon.
- Seamlessly connecting all your devices – Perhaps this use case is one that it’s a bit further down the line, but one can envisage iBeacons facilitating a smooth linking of all your gadgets and accounts. Gone will be the days of having to use lots of different logins, passwords or WiFi credentials. Instead, iBeacons will automatically pick your device and link to your account.
Main learning point: Personally, I find the iBeacon one of the most interesting and promising innovations that I’ve seen in a while. It might take some time but I do believe that these beacons will transform they way we do everyday things such as shopping, using public transport or connecting with other devices. I can foresee a range of new applications popping up, all making content and interactions a lot more targeted, contextual and personalised.
Fig. 1 – Promo video of Estimote Bluetooth Smart Beacon by Beacon
Fig. 2 – Promo video of “shopBeacon” by Shopkick
Fig. 3 – “iBeacon Demystified” – CapTech Webinar on 3rd March ’14 by CapTech
Related links for further learning: