iBeacon: Evolving From Location-Based to Micro Location-Based Technology

ibeaconiBeacon, a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 devices of their presence, provides apps a whole new level of location awareness. The new technology is making headway for retailers and consumers alike, including usage as trail markers in a park, exhibits in a museum, or product displays in stores. Learn more about what this technology has to offer.

What Is A Beacon?

Beacons are small lighthouse towers that are installed in a fixed location and broadcast its presence to all smartphones surrounding the area. Mobile devices in the range can pickup the Bluetooth radio signal (without previous pairing) and estimate their distance to the beacon by measuring the received signal strength (RSSI). Beacons should be uniquely identified as well since each beacon broadcasts its own ID.

Beacons are sometimes called a micro-location technology because it works similar to GPS, but much more precisely. Instead of getting you to an address, it could guide you once you are inside a store.

How It Works

The system relies on Bluetooth Low Energy devices (also know as BLE, Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart) for calculating micro location data employing little 2.4Mhz transmitters at key locations around a building. Your smartphone or other device automatically picks up the signal from these iBeacons and can calculate relative position or trigger contextual actions.

Essentially, rather than using satellite signals to locate a device anywhere on Earth as GPS does, BLE can enable a mobile user to navigate and interact with specific regions geofenced by low cost signal emitters that can be placed anywhere, including indoors, and even on moving targets.

iBeacon transmitters placed around stores use Bluetooth wireless technology to give your phone more precise information about your location.  That’s not possible with GPS, which doesn’t work well indoors and isn’t effective at distinguishing between locations that are just a few feet apart.

What Devices Do I Need To Use iBeacon?

You need iOS 7 or later, Bluetooth turned on, and an iOS compatible device such as:

  • iPhone 4s or later
  • iPad (3rd eneration) or later
  • iPad mini or later
  • iPod touch (5th generation) or later

Should I Be Concerned About My Privacy?

You can control which apps and system services access Location Services data, including iBeacon: Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services.

The Future Of Shopping

Think of iBeacon as a highly accurate GPS for indoor locations, using your mobile device to pinpoint specific information. Consumers can even use this to make purchases on their devices. It’s the digital version of a sales person guiding you to the right aisle or even product, but are consumers ready to replace the human interaction of shopping? One of the biggest concerns is the risk of keeping credit card information stored on their mobile devices such as using Near Field Communication (NFC). Google Wallet is still slow on user adoption, and many consumers remain leery with recent high profile store data breeches. We’ll let you decide whether consumers will embrace this new technology.

What are your thoughts on iBeacon? Comment below and let us know what you think!

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