iBeacon is a piece of Bluetooth location based tech that was introduced in iOS 7 and is also found in the latest version of Android. It is relatively simple in concept. A Bluetooth transmitter emits a signal and your phone can pick it up. That’s basically it. But please don’t stop reading. Big things have small beginnings.
I attended an iBeacon Meetup recently to learn more about it. It was at Canvas.co in DC, a very cool place for start-ups and the like. Three presentations were given about iBeacon. The first one was the most comprehensive, given by Radius Networks, a whole company that seems to be built around working with iBeacon. The presenter did a great job talking about the potential of iBeacon, its capabilities, and limitations.
The event had a bunch of iBeacons around the room and an App that we could download and start detecting iBeacons. iBeacons have a range of about 50 meters and are just bluetooth transmitters. They can come in many forms such as a battery powered dongle, usb hub, laptop, or even your iPhone itself. All they do is emit a three-part identifier every second or more. There is also a signal strength value that enables a rough estimate of distance from phone. iBeacons don’t transfer any actual information.
Using a unique identifier iPhones can detect iBeacons of a certain type. The user will have to have a specific application on their phone to see the right iBeacons. The iPhone can monitor for the right iBeacons and when one is found it can launch the application for 5 seconds. Enough time for instance, to display a notification on your phone. The second presenter gave a neat demo of a food stand having an app. When the customer walked into the store the app would open with the latest menu, the customer could order with their phone and be notified when their order was ready.
The most important thing I learned about iBeacon was that iBeacon is not good for providing accurate indoor locations. This is what I would be most interested in, I have done some research in micro-geographical spaces. I think this is a rather technological challenge, because I think you need some rather precise clocks to accurately measure signals between the transmitter and receiver in such close areas. I’m no expert in this area however.
Nevertheless I think iBeacon is still a cool feature and I can see it taking off in the next year. It would definitely be useful for making purchases in physical locations and interacting with displays. I think some creative people will find uses for it in games as well.