Once of the most exciting features announced alongside iOS 7, and the one that has received very little publicly is iBeacon.
So what is iBeacon?
iBeacon is a new service that is part of iOS 7’s core location services. This service allows any iOS device that supports Bluetooth 4.0 to find and locate other Bluetooth Low Energy devices. By using iBeacon, a device can start transmitting its location, other iBeacon devices can locate them without using GPS or Wi-Fi location services. The range varies but can be up to 100 feet depending on the device. So once your phone is within range, it will detect the iBeacon.
A number of vendors are producing dedicated iBeacon transmitters. Here at Amsys we have been busy working with a number of companies including Estimote and Gimbal who produce a range of small transmitters.
These are very small devices. They are powered by a battery which gives the device enough power for 2 years. Once enabled, they start broadcasting a unique ID.
So the idea is, you can place one or more these devices at a location. For instance, a shop may place many of these devices around its store. A museum may place them around specific exhibits.
The iOS device can then locate these devices. If multiple devices are detected, it can work out which one is closer. It can even work out if you are getting nearer or further away from them.
So why get excited?
The power of these devices become apparent when you build the functionality into an app.
There are hundreds of examples but here are just a few.
- A Retailer. By placing them around a shop floor, that shop’s app can locate where the user is, for instance to see if they near a specific product. By knowing the users location the app for instance could display specific information on that product they are viewing or maybe offer a discount voucher for it. Paypal are introducing a contactless payment system by using iBeacon. Even Apple are about to roll them out through their stores.
- A Gallery. A gallery could use them easily to locate which painting a user is looking at, the gallery’s app would then show information on that painting.
- Exhibition Centre: By placing them next to exhibitor stands you could use them to not only navigate around the exhibition but also have relevant information as you pass specific stands/exhibitors.
As you can see, there are endless possibilities. Basically, you can make better use of location based information and have a much better interactive experience with your customers/users.
A real life example is New York Mets baseball team. They recently did a test deployment. For instance, fans who purchased their tickets through the official app had a barcode of their ticket automatically displayed on their phone as they approach the entrance for the stadium. Once inside, the app guided them to their seat using their location. When they visited a merchandise stand they where offered some rewards points.
By using this new location service, you can make your apps much more personal and context aware.
At Amsys, we are currently working with a number of clients who are introducing this technology. One client is using them to identify spare meeting rooms. Each room has an iBeacon. As you approach the room, the app tells you whether the room is free or not.
The other nice thing about iBeacon is that the app does not need to be running. Instead, as you approach an iBeacon, a notification can be sent to the phone’s lock screen.
If you can see a use for this technology or would like some further information feel free to contact us.
Update for iOS 7.1
Apple have recently released iOS 7.1, quite a big update for iOS 7. One of the new features is in relation to iBeacon. When iBeacon was introduced, one of the ways you could utilise this service was to push a notification to the user when they reached a certain proximity with a beacon.
The caveat was that the app either had to be the foreground app or was parked in the background. Now with iOS 7.1 the app doesn’t even need to be running in the background for you to receive the notifications. Much more useful!