The hype surrounding Apple’s iBeacon continues to grow, with a handful of implementations moving beyond the trial stages. The focus of many of these implementations is retail; a consumer facing solution that aims to enhance the shopping experience and give retailers a host of store insights.
Shoppers who use apps designed to work with beacons are able to access exclusive deals, offers or promotions. Whilst doing so, retailers are gaining insight into their customers’ habits and behaviours. What’s important here is that it all hinders on the proximity of customers from beacons as to the information they, and the retailers, receive.
Screen demonstrating how Apple is utilising iBeacons in its US stores
Beacons are a proximity-based, Bluetooth Low Energy technology that broadcast IDs. The broadcast IDs can only be picked up by apps that have been designed to receive specific signals, from specific beacons. Overall beacons are “dumb” devices that broadcast their presence.
The clever stuff is done in-app. An action in the app is triggered by a beacon’s broadcasting packet that can do one of two things: firstly it can wake up the app and prompt the user to engage. This could be via a push notification that appears on the screen inviting the user to launch the app. Secondly, it can be used as filtering mechanism to find content related to the physical space or the physical object that the beacon occupies.
It can be likened to a Google search. If you enter a search term such as “hats” Google provides you with content relating to hats and not, for example, speed boats.
The beacon IDs act as the search term and the app filters content from backend systems. An example of this would be if the user is stood by wines in a supermarket, the beacon would be telling the app to activate the wine part of the app; this would then bring up a notification saying ‘need help selecting wine?’ If the system was truly intelligent, it might have picked up that the user had spent a few minutes by certain ingredients and base the recommendation on what it predicts the user is making.
The combination of the trigger and micro-location based content provides a contextually relevant user experience.
What beacons provide
A scenario that involves two beacons in different locations would allow content to be delivered depending on which beacon the user is closest to. If the user were closest to the first beacon, the dedicated app would pick this up and activate content within the app relevant to the location. If the user moves closer to the second beacon, the app would recognise this and change the content accordingly. This leads to apps being able to provide information at the right time, in the right place with the right information.
Anyone familiar with the Apple Store app for iPhone will have seen a larger, non-beacon implementation of this. When users are within range of an Apple store, GPS or Wi-Fi will activate a special menu relevant to the store where users can get help, make appointments or pay for goods. Beacons turns this into a much more intimate experience that can work without cellular, GPS or Wi-Fi connectivity, making it ideal for indoor locations.
Whilst retail has been the main market where beacons have been trialled; sports venues are another area where they are being implemented. Outdoor advertising could also receive a boost from beacon technology. At the moment, there are few ways to be able to find out how people interact with adverts; aside from visiting websites or sending text messages.
Beacons built into outdoor ads could help to deliver the same analytics advertisers have had online for years. They’d be able to find out how long people are looking at adverts for, whether they are taking any action or whether they are underperforming. As beacons work indoors, this could also be used for adverts on the tube and on trains. For the public, so long as they have a certain app installed, by standing in front of an advert for (lets say 20 seconds), it could trigger a notification that brings up a video or additional information based on the advert the user is by.
Other areas this could be applied to is the enterprise market. Beacons can be used to activate health and safety notices, unlock parts of apps that companies only want employees to access inside a building, act as a way of letting employees enter rooms or many thousands of different use cases. Aside from the in-building opportunities with beacons in enterprise, they can also be used on-site or in the field to help simplify paper based processes by surfacing content based on proximity to beacons.
There are hundreds of use cases where contextually relevant information is required at a given time. Beacons is the technology that can help to add more intelligence and create apps that appear to the end user to reflect their needs based on their location.
Mobile apps and new technology find most benefit when the use case does not stray too far from the current process or scenario but makes the end result easier to come by or more accurate. Beacon technology has the power to do this. Like many companies, we are investigating the possibilities but also trying to think outside of the box about how to really enhance apps and deliver greater value to our clients and their users.