Event Tech Case Studies, Applications, Technologies
Beacon is a protocol developed by Apple and introduced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013. Various vendors have since made iBeacon-compatible hardware transmitters – typically called beacons – a class of Bluetooth low energy (BLE) devices that broadcast their identifier to nearby portable electronic devices. The technology enables smartphones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon.
iBeacon is based on Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing by transmitting a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system. The identifier and several bytes sent with it can be used to determine the device’s physical location, track customers, or trigger a location-based action on the device such as a check-in on social media or a push notification.
iBeacon can also be used with an application as an indoor positioning system, which helps smartphones determine their approximate location or context. With the help of an iBeacon, a smartphone’s software can approximately find its relative location to an iBeacon in a store. Brick and mortar retail stores use the beacons for mobile commerce, offering customers special deals through mobile marketing, and can enable mobile payments through point of sale systems.
Another application is distributing messages at a specific Point of Interest, for example, a store, a bus stop, a room or a more specific location like a piece of furniture or a vending machine. This is similar to previously used geopush technology based on GPS, but with a much-reduced impact on battery life and better precision.
iBeacon differs from some other location-based technologies as the broadcasting device (beacon) is only a 1-way transmitter to the receiving smartphone or receiving device, and necessitates a specific app installed on the device to interact with the beacons. This ensures that only the installed app (not the iBeacon transmitter) can track users, potentially against their will, as they passively walk around the transmitters.
iBeacon compatible transmitters come in a variety of form factors, including small coin cell devices, USB sticks, and generic Bluetooth 4.0 capable USB dongles.
Beacons are low-cost, low-powered transmitters equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE (also called Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart) that can be used to deliver proximity-based, context-aware messages.
A beacon transmits signals which allow another device to determine its proximity to the broadcaster.
Any iPhone 4S or later that runs on iOS7 or later can be configured into an iBeacon transmitter.
Purposes of iBeacon
App Developers If you want to add new location awareness to your application, you would use the Core Location APIs in iOS to be notified when the iOS device has moved into or out of a beacon region. You can also determine approximate proximities to a device generating iBeacon advertisements. Everything you need to get started is included in the iOS SDK, no additional license is required.
People Deploying Devices With iBeacon Technology Whether you manage a sports arena, a museum, a retail store, or any of the myriad other physical locations where beacons could be employed, you need to be aware of how these devices work, issues surrounding signal strength and materials, and understand how to calibrate and test your deployment. If you are interested in using the iBeacon Logo on signage at a venue, but will not make devices with iBeacon technology, you will need to obtain an iBeacon logo license before using the iBeacon logo.
People Making Devices With iBeacon Technology If you are interested in manufacturing devices with iBeacon technology, you will need to obtain a license before building these devices. Please visit https://developer.apple.com/ ibeacon/ to apply for an iBeacon license. Licensees receive access to technical specifications, a license to use the iBeacon logo, and the iBeacon Identity Guidelines.
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AA Beacon (BC-313)
Coin Beacon (BC-413)
On iOS 7 and above (iPhone 4s and above, iPad 3rd/4th Gen/Mini/Air, iPod Touch 5th Gen and above), the phone can constantly scan for BLE devices and wake up relevant apps when they come within range of a relevant beacon (even if they are closed).
On Android devices there is no operating-system management of beacons and the apps must scan for BLE devices themselves. This means the apps must be running (can be in the background) all the time and hence use up more battery (not very much).
On Windows and Blackberry devices there are varying levels of compatibility but most modern phones over the last few years support BLE in a similar way to Android (e.g. Windows phones require the Lumia Cyan update).
Whilst beacons can have up to 70m range with no obstructions, this can drop significantly through walls which are made with metal or brick (though thin/stud walls have a much smaller effect).
The signals also allows apps to recognize whether you are getting closer or further away, hence offer you a welcome/goodbye message as you shop, or even understand which parts of the shop you interacted with.
In addition to the potential range of BLE, most protocols also operate with three ranges of distance: far, near and immediate – and a device can do something different at each range.
Designed so that your device can do something when you can just about hear a beacon (i.e. walking past a store)
Designed so your device can do something once you are in the same room as a beacon (i.e. walking into a store)
Designed so your device can do something once you are virtually touching a beacon (i.e. touching an advert or checkout in a shop)
Beacon Power Consumption
A typical Bluetooth’s peak consumption (<30mA) is higher compared to BLE’s peak consumption (<20mA). BLE uses 1-20% of the power of full Bluetooth in the beacon, it uses much less power on your phone. Leaving Bluetooth running on a BLE enabled phone should typically use 1-3% of a phone battery over the course of a full day.