About the iBeacon
iBeacons are small bits of tech that allow devices running iOS 7 and many devices on Android 4.3 to trigger dedicated applications, giving notifications to the user via Bluetooth. An iBeacon is a small device based on Apple’s own implementation of Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technology.
In order for the BLE device to work, a bespoke app must be installed on the user's device, this is because the beacons only broadcast information that can be 'triggered'. The app then does the hard work by processing the request. To do this the application must have the beacon's relevant ID implemented during development, so that it's picked up.
It used to be the case that the application would then need to be opened in order for the iBeacon to send any information, however, since iOS 7.1 - the application does not have to be opened in order for the iBeacon to pick the device up. The optimum range for the devices is around 30m on average (without having too much drain on the battery), whilst some devices are capable of ranges above 50 meters.
iBeacons are very versatile in regards to what can be sent and how they can be used. For example, an iBeacon could be used to simply send a voucher to a passerby that would be valid in the store for that day, a treasure hunt where users set out to reach hidden beacons in order to win prizes, using a beacon in a room to signal an alarm at a particular time (for all those who fall asleep in front of the TV), to push through trailers or adverts for users to watch (possibly for a reward) or simply to greet customers when they enter your business.
The beacons can also be triggered when they reach a certain number of people that they're broadcast to, every x number of seconds/minutes, between certain hours or dates and the proximity of a user to the beacon - to name a few.
Although iBeacons can be used in many industries, they are tipped to be the next big thing for retailers - with many looking to put the devices in their stores to increase footfall and sales. The iBeacon will allow these retailers to notify customers in-store or nearby of current/upcoming deals, they also have the ability to calculate how far users are from the beacon.
There are four different distances available to the beacons, those being immediate, near, far, and out of range (not found). The distances are however, relative to the transmission strength of the device to the beacon, i.e. if the device was set to a 10m range, the distance of ‘far’ would be shorter than that of a 30m range. One use of the proximity feature could be to create a heat map, displaying the number of people near each beacon and how long they are there; this allows retailers to calculate a customer's store route and where they spend most of their time.
As a low energy version of Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE is perfect for iBeacons. The power supply needed for an iBeacon is usually small watch battery size and can last on average 1-2 years, however some iBeacons have implemented the use of larger batteries which will last longer and also be able to broadcast at a wider range.
In a nutshell, what is an iBeacon?
A small device that triggers an action within an application, this can trigger content stored within the app or from a cloud based CMS.
iBeacons can work from three distance ranges, those being immediate, near and far (anything further than that will not appear) - each being able to send different notifications. This will also pave a way for retailers to create heat maps of where customers travel within the store (through noting the distance from each beacon).
The beacons themselves are simple device that is only used to send triggering requests/broadcast a signal, a bespoke app must be used in order for the system to work.
By updating customers with notifications based on their retail journey, iBeacons can be used to create closer relationships between customers and retailers - they will also help retailers understand exactly what makes their customer tick.