(i)Beacons are Your Business

Beacons. There’s been a lot of talk in the press about them. Particularly ibeacons, Apple’s specific implementation. But when you peel back the hype, what does the technology mean to you as a business owner and you as an owner of a smartphone that interacts with them?

Simply stated, beacons are inexpensive, small (think golf ball), battery-powered devices that broadcast small (think words, not paragraphs) blips of static information to be picked up by smartphones that are listening. That's it, really. 

All the recent hubbub comes from Apple's support of beacon technology (naturally they call it "ibeacon") in iOS 7.1, the most recent operating system for iPhones and iPads. Apple's implementation is quite clever: the device itself is always "listening" for beacon signals as long as location services and bluetooth are enabled. When an iOS device detects a beacon signal, it passes it along to installed apps that know what to do with it, waking them up or even launching them if they were not running. As always, Android devices aren't far behind. All the rest is left to the app and what it's programmed to do with the knowledge that it's near a particular beacon.

What does this mean?

  • Beacon technology can allow an app to pinpoint its physical location within yards or feet, accuracy far greater than GPS or WiFi technologies allow.
  • To take advantage of beacons – or be exploited by them depending on your point of view -- users must first download an app that interacts with beacons (like the Apple Store app).
  • The user experience with beacons depends entirely on the app that's aware of them; beacons don't brodcast "specials" or "coupons", it's up to the app to retrieve (over WiFi or the cellular network or from data stored within the app) relevant content to display on the device after it's aware that it's near a beacon.
  • Beacons themselves do not require an infrastructure for deployment: to make sense of the data, the App needs to be configured to understand the locational context of the beacons it interacts with, but the individual beacons do not need to be "attached" to a network or wired to a power source. Physical installation and maintenance/replacement is simple.
  • The opportunity to put beacons to work for business is driven by the software within and behind (think content management/campaign management) the app so it's easy to deploy rapidly and improve iteratively

Almost all of the press related to beacons describes how they can drive sales in retail environments. Startups like Beconic in the Netherlands and Lighthouse in Australia have emerged to deliver canned retail solutions based on beacon technology. But that's just one aspect of the promise of this technology. Location awareness can improve the user experience for companies with apps that cater to museums, schools, hospitals, sports venues, etc. There's really no limit.

Dialogs has explored innovative ways to put beacon technology to work for several of our clients in ways that don't fit the retail mold. The Dialogs Framework, a single point content solution, has allowed us to rapidly develop beacon-supporting backend solutions with functionality driven by—not dictating—client requirements. Interested? Contact us today to put beacons to work for your business