Ten Things You Need to Know About iBeacon

You may have recently heard a lot of buzz about iBeacon and Bluetooth Low Energy. At ReignDesign, we're helping our clients make sense of this new technology, and how it can be used to making great location-aware mobile experiences.

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Kirsten Osolind, President and COO of re:invention consulting, recently said  “Beacon technology will improve the way consumers use smart phones and transform numerous industries by solving the indoor geo-location challenge. It has great potential to facilitate better mobile payments thereby disrupting the whole credit card ecosystem because of its range.”

We're compiled 10 interesting facts that you need to know about iBeacons.

1. iBeacons are tiny

iBeacons are very small. To give you an idea, here's a Lego man holding an iBeacon in the ReignDesign office. This means it's easy to hide an iBeacon discreetly in a store or at an event.

2. iBeacons have very long battery life

iBeacon uses the "Bluetooth Low Energy" technology. Low energy means that a iBeacon can run off a single standard lithium battery for 1-2 years. You don't need to worry about an external power supply.

3. Most modern smartphones support detecting iBeacons

iOS devices including the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C and 5S, the iPad 3 and later, iPad Mini, all support iBeacons. iBeacon is Apple's brand name for this technology, but iBeacons work fine with Android devices too! Many Android devices running Android 4.3 or later detect iBeacons, including the Samsung Galaxy S3/S4/S4 Mini, Samsung Galaxy Note 2/3, HTC One, Nexus 4, 5 and 7.

4. You don't need an internet connection

iBeacons use Bluetooth. A device with Bluetooth switched on can detect iBeacons in range and pop up a notification or unlock content, even if there is no Internet connection. Of course, the content needs to be already included in the app. If there is Internet available, the app can do more advanced things, such as pulling live content from a website in response to detecting an iBeacon.

5. iBeacons work well indoors

Most smartphones use "assisted GPS" to determine a user's location. This uses a combination of the satellite GPS system, and local wifi and cellular tower signals to obtain a location. This isn't ideal: GPS only works outdoors, and wifi/cellular location is very rough. AGPS can tell you you are in a shopping mall, but not which store you are in. iBeacon is perfect for this scenario. Each iBeacon has a range of about 30m. For example, in a shopping mall, an iBeacon could be placed above the entrance to each store. A shopping mall app could then tell the user which store they are located nearby.

6. Big brands are already using iBeacons

Major League Baseball (MLB) is the major league professional baseball organization in the US. MLB first installed iBeacon technology at Petco Park and Dodger Stadium. By Opening Day of the 2014 season, 20 ballparks were equipped using iBeacon technology. Baseball fans can use the iBeacons with the app MLB.com At The Ballpark.

Westpac Banking Corporation is a major Australian bank. They're rolling out iBeacon technology in branches. iBeacon will be used to send customers alerts with special offers and other incentives on their device when they are in or near a branch.

Apple themselves are also finding ways to use to offer targeted information to passing users via app notifications or in-app content. Recently, Apple introduced physical iBeacons at its retail stores. Beacons are placed throughout the store and as a customer walks around, the beacons trigger messages to the customer’s iPhone. A customer can scan an item they want and pay for it from their phone using the Apple Store app; the app too uses beacon technology.

7. iBeacons need an app to work

An iBeacon simply broadcasts a number of identifiers. For example:

{ uuid = "74278BDA-B644-4520-8F0C-720EAF059935"; major = 65504; minor = 65505; }

Now if we want a user's device to do something interesting when this beacon is detected, like pop up a coupon for a store, or unlock a video, we need an app. If the user hasn't downloaded your app, they won't see your iBeacons. When the app is launched, it can register which beacons it is interested in, for example any beacons with uuid "74278BDA-B644-4520-8F0C-720EAF059935" could cause a notification to pop up.

8. When you get close to an iBeacon, you can pop open a notification, even if the app is not running

When a user with your app installs comes close to an iBeacon, your app is notified. What happens next depends if the user has your app open: If they don't have the app open, your app is launched in the background. You can still do certain tasks like popping up a local notification. unlock For example, imagine a restaurant installs iBeacons at the entrance to each store. Customers with the app installed can receive a notification when they arrive. In a more advanced scenario, the app could make a web request to check if there are any active promotions. Only if there is a promotion relevant to the current user would the app pop up a notification.

9. If your app is running, you can unlock content based on beacon location

If your app is running, you can not only detect the location of beacons, but even see how far away they are using "ranging". This opens up many exciting possibilities. For example, imagine guests at an auto show. Each car model has an iBeacon attached. When guests holding an iPhone or iPad approaches the car, a video in the app can automatically play.

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10. Choose a partner who understands this technology.

iBeacons are a new technology, and it pays to choose the right partner. ReignDesign is already working with a number of brands and agencies in Shanghai and around the world in deploying iBeacon-enabled apps. We have iBeacons in our office right now, and we're happy to give you a demonstration of this exciting technology. Get in touch today!

Matt Mayer

Matt Mayer is a founder at ReignDesign. Matt is from the UK and was based in Shanghai for ten years. He is now living in Bangkok, Thailand.