Android and iBeacon: Will Samsung Introduce a Bluetooth LE Framework?

Patently Apple reports that Samsung has filed a trademark for Flybell, which for all intents looks a lot like Apple’s iBeacon. They propose that the product may be launched this coming Monday along with the release of the Samsug Galaxy S5 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Sure to be called an ‘iBeacon Competitor’ the Flybell will do two things:

  • Make clear that Android isn’t being left behind in the world of Bluetooth LE beacons
  • Confuse things even more – making it seems as if beacons are proprietary to the worlds of Android or Apple

Most Beacons are Bluetooth LE

But as readers of this blog know, most beacons have one thing in common: the Bluetooth LE specification. While there are also audio, light-driven and other types of beacons the term is fast becoming synonymous with Bluetooth LE. (Philips LED beacons are perhaps better put in the “Intelligent Lighting” bucket, for example).

Most modern Android devices can already detect Bluetooth LE signals. The limiting factor has been that Android devices need to have the KitKat operating system installed to easily take advantage of beacons. The rate of OS adoption on Android is driven by the device maker schedules and how quickly they push out new updates.

So What IS Flybell?

Regardless of whether Samsung gives Bluetooth LE beacon support a name, if they update their devices to KitKat as expected then we’ll start to see a larger number of Android devices able to detect beacons.

Flybell may be a lot like Apple iBeacon – a trade name representing their specific approach to beacon detection, on-device code, and back-end support. Right now, the Apple trade name is being used for the full kit of code, APIs and SDKs that support Bluetooth LE detection. Their plan, however, is to ‘certify’ beacons as iBeacon compatible (or iBeacon branded).

This doesn’t necessarily represent a proprietary type of beacon, simply their version of how the Bluetooth LE spec should be deployed within a beacon.

Samsung may take a similar approach and publish a specification for how a Bluetooth LE device should be configured. If so we could, in theory, see vendors and device makers able to put both an iBeacon and Flybell ‘badge’ on their beacons. Both would be using Bluetooth LE but each company may have slight differences in how they prefer the advertising packets, broadcast rates and power signals be executed.

Will this lead to a divide between Android and Apple beacons? It’s highly unlikely.

But expect the media to play up the Apple versus Android battle for beacons if Samsung makes a move next week with its launch of the Galaxy and their potential launch of the Flybell brand.

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