iBeacon vs. Beacon – future business?

The term iBeacon and Beacon are often used interchangeably, according to the iBeaconInsider. iBeacon is the name for Apple’s technology standard, which allows Mobile Apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world and react accordingly. In essence, iBeacon technology allows Mobile Apps to understand their position on a micro-local scale, and deliver hyper-contextual content to users based on location. The underlying communication technology is Bluetooth Low Energy.


Picture 1: Canadesign SDN

What’s the best definition of this innovative and effective mobile technology? That’s the system which enables a smartphone or tablet to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon interactive small device. iBeacon uses BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) signal to transmit an universally identifier picked up by a compatible dedicated app or operating system (iOS or Android). Bluetooth Low Energy is a wireless personal area network technology used for transmitting data over short distances. As the name implies, it’s designed for low energy consumption and cost, while maintaining a communication range similar to that of its predecessor, Classic Bluetooth. The Bluetooth LE protocol is significantly more power efficient than standard Bluetooth. iBeacon is Apple project of BLE wireless technology to create a different way of providing location-based information and services to iPhones and other iOS devices. Let’s define how are BLE main differences from Bluetooth:

  • Power Consumption: Bluetooth LE, as the name hints, has low energy requirements. It can last up to 3 years on a single coin cell battery.
  • Lower Cost: BLE is 60-80% cheaper than traditional Bluetooth.
  • Application: BLE is ideal for simple applications requiring small periodic transfers of data. Classic Bluetooth is preferred for more complex applications requiring consistent communication and more data throughput.

Apple introduced iBeacons in mid 2013. On December 6, 2013, Apple reported that they  activated iBeacons across 254 US retail stores. With the launch of iOS 7, retailers and other small to medium enterprises will be able to use this Bluetooth 4.0 based technology. iBeacons is the name Apple defined for a particular technology that allows mobile apps to know how close they are to tiny, low-cost, wireless transmitters. It’s important to note that iBeacons technology now isn’t an Apple’s monopoly. Almost all recent Android devices already support it too. On Android devices there is no operating-system management of beacons and the apps must scan for BLE devices themselves.  This means the apps must be running (can be in the background) all the time and in a result use up more battery.


Picture 2: Nitro Mobile Solutions

How iBeacons technology works?

To better understand how iBeacons technology works, we have to understand two key factors: Micro-location and Interaction/Engagement/Context. iBeacons technology allows your mobile device to understand its position, even in indoor locations where smartphones or tablets are not able to pick up GPS signals from satellites overhead. iBeacons therefore make it possible to effortlessly engage with people in a physical space through their Mobile devices. iBeacons signals allow to calculate distances in quite an approximate and qualitative way – specifically your iBeacon-enabled can monitor three ranges/regions:

  • Immediate (less than 50 centimetres)
  • Near (approximately between 50 centimetres and 2/5 meters)
  • Far (more or less between 2/5 meters and 30/50 meters, depending on walls, the iBeacon output power and many other factors)

Beacons that are compatible with Apple’s iBeacon standard will work with devices that have Bluetooth 4.0 and iOS 7.0+ (e.g. iPhone 4S+, iPad 3+), Android 4.3+ (e.g. Samsung Galaxy S3/S4/S4 Mini, Samsung Galaxy Note 2/3, HTC One, Google/LG Nexus 7/Nexus 4/Nexus 5, HTC Butterfly and others+), OS X Mavericks 10.9+ (e.g. a MacBook Pro). Other important considerations are the backend services that serve as a beacon content management system, where you can manage beacons, define regions, analyse visitor behaviour etc. Below are some examples one may can use iBeacon in business:

  • Positioning and navigation indoors
  • Tracking of people or possessions
  • Location based advertisements or messages
  • Security and automatic locking/unlocking of a computer
  • Trigger requests for things like payments (note payments cannot be contained in BLE itself as it isn’t encrypted)

The future of Beacons, iBeacons?

It seems more and more exciting. I can mention e. g. regarding Wired.com: Tying various digital content to the real, physical world; Seamless setup for all our gadgets we use every day; Retail 2.0 – loyalty programmes, prizes, shopping way; A new level of peer-to-peer smarts…. Some more examples according to the Beaconsandwich:

  • In-Shop Experience – With players like Facebook, Google offering proximity-based campaigns through their iOS and Android platforms, businesses have the option of combining social campaigns that physically drive clients to your door using proprietary apps that enable a deeper engagement and shopping experience that can trigger physical events, such as a blinking window display as the customer walks by.
  • Tracking – Restaurants have shown us how useful mobile technologies are. Enabled with touch devices, waiters don’t have to rush to the kitchen in order to dispatch orders. In other cases, clients can make orders directly on tablets available at the table. Before iBeacon or NFC technology were around, such apps required the waiter to select a table number every time he/she takes an order. With iBeacons, the app automatically knows which table the waiter is at. It can display the client name (eventually with the client’s dinning history/preferences) and automatically associate orders with tables without requiring waiters to manually select a table number. Business owners can digest analytics data showing which tables (serving which clients) employees stayed more time/compared to client’s satisfaction, and it is even possible to understand and analyze employees’ most common paths, least visited/shadow areas and improve efficiency. The same concept can be adapted to a myriad of business kinds: from logistics to hotels and hospitals.
  • Classroom & Education – the iBeacon platform offers a wide range or applications that can be applied on an educational context. From simple education games that require students to move around, explore and find things to more scientific or technical experiments in the classroom, iBeacon is a great tool to stimulate young minds and drive curiosity towards subjects like geography, math, context, automation, logic
  • Automation – all kinds of automation, commercial or industrial, are directly related to what beacons can offer. From your garage door that opens once your car stops by (without pressing any button) to lights that go on and off as you need them to be.
  • Loyalty Programs – NFC technology does not offer the range of possibilities that Bluetooth does and iBeacons can be used to do something very similar to what NFC does. When adjusted to be ranged within very short distances, iBeacons can be deployed to allow communication between stationary beacons and loyalty program apps. In a more advanced scenario, both the app and the stationary sensor can perform passive (listener) and active (broadcaster) actions, allowing short-range, two-way communication between the app and the iBeacon sensor.
  • Indoor location – many airports have already implemented traveller location services that guide and facilitate users locomotion through areas that they’re not familiar with. Normally used in conjunction with airport-specific apps, these services improve user experience, drive sales and help the management understand traveller’s behaviour in order to optimize signage systems and the space as a whole.

Source: iBeaconInsider, BeaconSandwich

Graphic: ITCraft/ KickShop, Canadesign SDN, Nitro Mobile Solutions