Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has began to proliferate in consumer tech. We’re starting to see how the technology can be used to enhance our lives – well, the lives of marketeers at the very least.
Simply: BLE is efficient, cheap, smart and already compatible with millions of devices.
This makes it particularly good for transmitting data back and forth between sensors and other devices, such as fitness trackers. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group have several profiles set up for use with BLE. Including Sport & fitness, Health, Proximity, and Alerts (all of which would be useful in a wearable device, no?).
Apple introduced iBeacons with iOS 7 as “a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 devices of their presence”.
iBeacons can offer highly targeted messages that take into account context, location, user behaviour and user profile. For both the consumer and the marketeer it’s capable of being timely and highly relevant.
It connects the dots between how digital & offline behaviour can work together.
So a few weeks ago I was asked to give a 30 minute presentation in work on marketing technology and I chose iBeacons.
I picked up a cheap Chinese iBeacon on eBay and downloaded a slew of iBeacon apps from the app store and started tinkering away. Turns out cheap chinese iBeacons aren’t particularly good (lesson learnt: you buy cheap, you buy twice). I was able to change the UUID (a general device identifier) and Major/Minor numbers (these help to group iBeacons) once or twice but after that it stopped playing ball. Regardless, I could still use certain apps that would pick it up and work out my proximity to it.
iBeacons are capable of two functions:
- Region monitoring: this means an iOS device can detect when you move in or out of range of an iBeacon and inform a related app, which can then push a notification to your iOS device.
- Ranging: An iOS device receiving an iBeacon transmission can approximate the distance from the iBeacon. The distance (between transmitting iBeacon and iOS device) is categorised into 3 distinct ranges:
- Immediate: Within a few centimetres
- Near: Within a couple of metres
- Far: Greater than 10 metres away
I had planned to have a mini easter egg hunt using the cheap beacon, but it was simply not reliable. Thankfully, all compatible iOS devices can broadcast as an iBeacon. I used the Estimote Virtual Beacon app (also on Android) to turn my iPad into an ibeacon and asked members of my team to also download the app.
I hid my iBeacon broadcasting iPad in a cupboard with some easter eggs, told everyone to open the app and tap the distance demo. The demo shows the far, near and immediate ranges and any beacons that fall into those ranges. See the video below for a slightly better explanation.
Huge relief when it all worked out: my colleagues found the eggs and in the process gained a better grasp of iBeacons and what they’re capable of (more on that another time).
iBeacons are exciting so I bought a cheap one on eBay, it didn’t work well. The good news is anyone can start tinkering with iBeacons right now, in fact I recommend it. I’ve learnt a lot about the hardware, programming, and how iOS handles iBeacons.