All about Bluetooth beacons and iBeacon positioning technology
The iBeacon technology is a promising development from Apple intended for transmitting Bluetooth signals to the devices located within the range of indoor navigation beacons. Thus, there is a possibility of locating objects in the building. The main operating principle is in setting up tiny beacons that are connected with users’ smartphones by means of the Bluetooth Low Energy standard.
This technology allows programming different actions depending on the received identifier and the distance from the smartphone to the beacon. The mobile phone application tracks objects and persons, builds interactive maps, displays informational and promotional notifications. Such approach significantly simplifies communication between companies and consumers, and provides businessmen with an effective tool for attracting targeted audiences.
The Bluetooth Low Energy standard is a wireless technology ensuring low energy consumption for smartphones. While working with iBeacons, users’ mobile devices consume 30 times less energy than in case of connecting via Wi-Fi. Every beacon can function from one battery for more than a year. The BLE protocol works at a distance of up to 50-70 m (depending on the characteristics of the terrain). The average channel speed of the standard for mobile apps is up to 0.27 Mb/sec.
How does iBeacon technology work?
The iBeacon technology consists of three mutually dependant components:
- Beacons - installed on the perimeter of the building, it sends signals at intervals of a fraction of a second.
- Bluetooth - a wireless communication standard which provides information exchange between the beacon and the mobile device.
- Mobile application with the integrated Navigine SDK component - a program with indoor positioning technology developed for certain businesses. In order to get information, the user has to install the application on his phone.
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Main iBeacon use cases
The usage of iBeacon trackers presupposes three different cases – navigation, analytics and marketing.
Beacons can be installed in different places for simplifying logistics around the building. They are used in shopping centers, exhibition and medical institutions, museums, libraries, industrial enterprises. The iBeacon indoor mapping function helps to lead a person literally by the hand and show him the places of his interest. Thus, in shops it can build a route to the necessary shelf or goods, and in the library – to the wanted book. iBeacon helps to make an interactive map, develops the best route, allows visitors or staff to get to the place using the quickest way. All these things improve user experience and make them more loyal to the given company.
Every year proximity marketing is becoming more and more common, especially in trading, which allows retailers to apply an individual approach to every customer. Beacons let users get any necessary information in the form of notification about actions, discounts, new goods, or tips with detailed information about products or services. When using the technology, marketers can send the relevant content to clients and target advertising.
With the help of the indoor location tracking using bluetooth proximity beacons, visitors of shops can be provided with the route maps around the shop that show them the quickest and simplest way to promotional goods. Building interactive online maps with points of interest increases clients’ loyalty and encourages them to come back. Thanks to navigation, customers can save their personal time and quickly find the places or departments that are interesting for them. Thus, the retailer improves user experience of customers and attracts new clients to the shop.
As an example of proximity marketing, let’s look at the case from Navigine developed for the network of Finnish supermarkets. The basis of the development is an individual shopping guide that looks like a shopping trolley with a tablet. The client just has to take a trolley, upload the list of necessary products or the name of the required dish. The system immediately provides him with the recipe and builds the route around the supermarket indicating the location of the needed goods.
After the emergence of the technology, it has become easier for businessmen to analyze clients’ logistics and understand their main requests. Using the technology, it’s possible to create flow maps, divide visitors into one-time and regular clients, get heat maps, define sources of traffic. At industrial enterprises the system is useful due to its options for making effective management decisions. Managers can track valuable assets and production units, record lateness, regulate task scheduling. As a result, the company gets considerable cost reduction and improvement in work safety.
iBeacon technology application
The function of exact iBeacon positioning can be applied in many spheres:
- Manufacturing – builds maps of industrial enterprises with various access zones, records the history of motions and tracks assets. The system helps to reduce the number of emergency situations and optimize the logistics inside the building.
- Retail - provides navigation and search of the necessary goods in the shop, helps to improve the quality of customer service.
- Logistics, warehouse – gives detailed information on asset location in warehouses, carries out the analytics of vehicle movement.
- Healthcare – provides patients with detailed information on doctors’ working hours, helps to make an appointment, builds interactive maps with doctors’ rooms.
- Entertainment, culture – makes routes to exhibition stands, provides visitors with the content on events.
Myths on iBeacon
Although the iBeacon technology has appeared recently, there are many myths around it. Let’s look at the most common misconceptions which will clarify the insight into the system:
- iBeacon works only with iPhone. For receiving radio signals from beacons, mobile devices use the BLE technology, i.e. beacons can be recognized by any equipment with the Bluetooth Low Energy support and equipped with an OS older than Android 4.3 or iOS 7.0.
- iBeacon tracks users. The technology can’t control mobile device users. The beacon just sends signals and mobile apps are able to detect them and execute certain actions. But only if the user has installed the app and chosen the relevant parameters in the settings.
- Because of iBeacon, a mobile phone battery runs out very quickly. For receiving radio signals, mobile devices use the BLE technology, so the system practically has no effect on battery consumption.
- iBeacon defines the exact location of a person. The range of beacon signals is up to 70 m. The main advantage of the system is not the establishment of the exact location but the ability to define the proximity of the user to some object. The accuracy of radio beacons depends on the distance. If the user is 10 m from the beacon, the accuracy can be up to 2 m, if the distance is 20 sm, the accuracy is about 6 sm.
- iBeacon sends information. Beacons don’t transmit any content. They just send signals that allow the mobile application to send out notifications. All information comes to the phone from the server, not via iBeacon. For that, the user has to be within the range of the beacon.
- iBeacon can be used only inside the building. The iBeacon network is successfully applied inside and outside buildings. The manufacturers of the equipment constantly produce new versions of beacons which can work in the open air, even in bad weather.
Comparison of iBeacon and Eddystone technologies
The iBeacon technology has an analogue, Eddystone, developed by Google. For choosing the most suitable platform for delivering content, it’s necessary to understand the main working principles of these systems, evaluate their advantages and disadvantages.
Many people think that Eddystone and iBeacon are completely different systems but actually both systems can send information on object location to the mobile device and Bluetooth beacons can follow each of the mentioned protocols. Let’s compare the given technologies and consider their differences:
- iBeacon belongs to closed-type platforms while Eddystone is an open type, i.e. developers can change the code and introduce modifications.
- iBeacon was originally developed for iOS, but it is compatible not only with this system but also with Android. The other platform is compatible with all operating systems that support the BLE function.
- iBeacon has no special APIs for its beacons. Eddystone can work only with Bluetooth API for iOS or Android.
- iBeacon has a simple codebase; its competitor’s architecture is more complicated.
- In order to open the URL received from the radio beacon, Eddystone needs a browser. A special mobile application is used for displaying the information from UUID from the iBeacon bluetooth beacons for indoor positioning.
Navigine offers users an effective B2B platform for developing applications based on tracking or exact indoor positioning. The basis of the development is the iBeacon technology which opens endless possibilities for developing business in any spheres – from manufacturing and logistics to healthcare, retail and digital advertising.