Everything you should know about iBeacon Technology

latest mobile app developments

Through this blog, I will take on a tech exploration that will acquaint you with one of the greatest marketing tools of our time. Let’s get started with it.

What is Beacon technology?

Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that send signals to other smart devices in their close vicinity through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. This technology is also known as Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart. They are one of the latest mobile app developments in location technology and proximity marketing. Put simply, they connect and transmit information to smart devices making location-based searching and interaction easier and more accurate.

The underlying technology (BLE) was created by Nokia and the concept of “beacons” is universal to all hardware compatible with Bluetooth Smart/BLE that is available under the Bluetooth 4.0 specification.

Did Apple invent beacons?

Apple’s iOS was the first platform to bring this technology to the masses. Technically speaking, Apple extended its iOS CLLocation class, which previously supported only GPS/Geolocation, to support beacons as well. 

Apple introduced iBeacon during the launch of iOS 7 at the World Wide Developer Conference on June 10, 2013.

What is an iBeacon?

iBeacon is Apple’s trademark technology for its future BLE products and systems for proximity marketing. It is a system built into the latest version of Apple’s iOS 7 mobile operating system that lets iPhones and iPads constantly scan for Bluetooth devices nearby. They can also emit beacon signals to wake up apps on other devices related to iOS development. iBeacons carry a unique identifier. If the listener does not know this identification, it will never know it is there.

How does iBeacon work?

The iBeacon transmits signals which allow another device to determine its proximity to the broadcaster. For example, if you pass a beacon in a shop, the retailer’s iOS app (assuming you have it installed) can display a special offer alert for you. On a visit to the museum, the museum’s app will provide information about the closest display, using your distance from beacons placed near exhibits to work out your position. As such, iBeacon could be a much better option for in-door mapping, which GPS struggles with.

How is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) useful for iBeacon?

Bluetooth LE has the advantage that it consumes lower energy and is ‘native’ to most modern phones and tablets.

What is the range of a Bluetooth beacon’s signal?

The typical range of Bluetooth low-energy radio modules is up to 70 m (230 ft.). It depends on the location also, because radio signals can be absorbed or diffracted. The smallest beacon form factor, the keychain beacon, has a maximum range of 25 meters, whereas the long-range beacons have a maximum range of 300 meters.

How precise is beacon-detection indoors?

It depends on the intended use and immediate surroundings too. Generally, one could detect the presence of beacons as far away as 50-70 meters or as little as 10 inches. 

Can beacons be placed outdoors?

Beacons can be placed outdoors, however, temperature affects battery life. Some beacons are also waterproof so they can be placed outdoors. External environmental changes such as rain can reduce the range of the signal though. 

Which devices are compatible with beacons?

All Bluetooth 4.0-enabled devices are capable of picking up BLE signals. This includes all iOS devices manufactured since 2013. The most popular devices are the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 3, Samsung Galaxy S III and Motorola RAZR.

Do beacons send data to phones?

Yes, they do, but those are only small bits of data, typically a unique identifier. This allows mobile apps to differentiate between beacons and perform an action when necessary (that is, a location-triggered notification). The identifier consists of three components: a UUID, which is specific to a beacon vendor; a “major,” which is specific to a region, such as a store location; and a “minor,” which is specific to a subregion, such as a department within a store.

Who exactly sends in-store offers based on shopper locations – beacons or apps?

This is a very common misconception about beacons. Beacons cannot send notifications to a user’s phone. You cannot transmit content using a beacon. They simply send a unique identifier to an app to tell the app that it is entering the beacon range. That signal tells an app that it’s time to send the user a notification, trigger messages or perform an action.

Can a beacon track me via my mobile phone?

Beacons are just transmitters. They do not receive or collect any signals from mobile devices. These devices don’t detect the presence of a shopper’s mobile device and therefore have no ability to track his/her location.

The relevant app on a mobile device is what detects the beacons. More specifically, an app installed on the mobile device can ask to be notified when the device nears a specific beacon. This works very similar to how geofences work when a mobile device crosses into a specific geographic location.

Does iBeacon mean I’ll be bombarded with ads wherever I go?

This depends on how many apps you have. The beacons themselves won’t do much unless you have the corresponding app downloaded to your iOS device. Also, iOS doesn’t deliver regional notifications until certain threshold conditions are met. Apple’s developer notes state the device has to cross an iBeacon boundary, move away from the boundary by a minimum distance, and remain there for at least 20 seconds before the notifications pop up on the iPhones.

Can I disable iBeacon?

Yes, you can opt-out by changing permissions under Location Services for the relevant app. You can access it via Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Besides, you may also switch off Bluetooth or uninstall that particular app.

The Future of iBeacon

The future of this technology is very bright. With so many applications all around, it will clearly win the game in the retail sector. Moreover, it will also find its rightful place in education and other industries in the days to come. Let’s wait and watch the iBeacon in action!

Author Bio

Bharat Patel, who heads the digital marketing team at Brainvire Infotech, is armed with over 12 years of experience in the fields of online marketing and project management. He is extremely proactive in implementing the latest technological innovations in his projects. Bharat’s core expertise lies in search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and conversion rate optimization, among other things. His immense flare of writing encourages him to consistently pen down words revolving around current trends and innovations that relate to his fields of interest.