When iOS 7 was first announced, iBeacons was a feature that wasn’t given much attention, now however, it seems its potential is finally being recognised.
Essentially, iBeacons is a brand name coined by Apple for a type of technology that enhances the location awareness in mobile apps, all through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). When a compatible device is near, a beacon can transmit content to it via BLE. Equally, the compatible device can transmit to the beacon as well.
Let’s not forget that it’s not just new iOS devices that implement this technology. The majority of new devices entering the market, including the HTC One, Nokia Lumias, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Blackberry Z10 and Q10, among others, are all BLE compatible. In terms of iOS devices, the iPhone 4S and above, the iPad with Retina display and the iPad mini are all BLE compatible.
Currently, businesses and brands are using GPS, as well as 3G/4G and wifi connections to locate where people are with their devices. However, these satellite signals are only useful for targeting larger areas or areas within a geofence. They aren’t always accurate when targeting much smaller areas like an aisle in a supermarket, a display in a shop or a seminar room at a conference.
This is where BLE technology is far more accurate. By placing small transmitters, also known as beacons, around a building, or in a specific room in a building, relevant content can then be pushed to a user’s mobile device as they walk past various beacons.
For example, a museum might decide to place a beacon next to each exhibit so visitors with BLE and the museum’s app installed on their phone, can be pushed relevant information on each exhibit they view.
This is just one example of how BLE can be used to improve customer service and engagement. Although we think the retail industry will be one of the key sectors to benefit from this type of technology, it is clear that there are a number of other sectors that could really benefit from iBeacons and BLE.
In terms of enterprise and business apps, BLE and iBeacons technology could be used in many ways to help make business processes more efficient and also improve staff productivity.
For example, BLE and iBeacons technology could be a useful way of managing a physical workforce. For security management teams who need to patrol buildings, beacons could be placed around the building to ensure the security teams are patrolling the right areas. Equipped with an app on their mobile devices, security employees will pass each beacon and this could then trigger a call to a web service for example, to say that the device has passed a specific beacon. This would mean that employees would no longer have to fill in reports after a shift, as the system will know that all bases have been patrolled. Equally, the app will know if the rounds have not been completed and can alert the user to patrol the missed areas.
There a few companies who are already hoping to take advantage of the growth of BLE technology, and Estimote, a third-party hardware manufacturer of BLE devices, is one of these companies.
Estimote is offering a personalised micro location-based notification service through the use of their BLE beacons, and is targeting the retail industry.
Imagine walking into your favourite clothes shop with your BLE-enabled mobile device. The clothes shop is using third-party beacons and they are dotted around various points of the shop. Essentially, these beacons can send personalised content to your mobile device, so if you are browsing t-shirts for example, the beacon will sense this and send a personalised message to your mobile device. This could be anything from a discount voucher to information on matching items in the shop.
There are many scenarios where BLE technology can be incorporated into apps to improve customer service and business processes, as well as improve staff productivity and efficiency. We are really interested how this technology progresses and also what will happen to NFC and QR codes once BLE becomes more recognised.
Following the introduction of iBeacons to iOS 7, Mubaloo began a six month R&D programme to investigate the possibilities of beacon technology for the enterprise market. We’ve now launched MiBeacons, which is enabling businesses to deliver contextually relevant information through the use of beacon technology.
We’ve been looking at Bluetooth Low Energy for the past few years to monitor how the market would develop. From wearables to sensors, Bluetooth Low Energy is helping to make smart environments for smart devices. With MiBeacons, we are taking the principles of iBeacons and applying it to the enterprise market. While others are focusing on consumer opportunities; we believe that one of the biggest markets for the technology will be business intelligence for the enterprise.” Mark Mason, CEO, Mubaloo