Hacking iBeacon

The simplicity of iBeacon hides a deeper challenge: thinking about mobile application development in a way that relates a user experience to the physical world.

They’ve discovered, I’m sure, that the simplicity of Bluetooth LE hides confounding challenges, about which we’ve written previously. 

A beacon doesn’t seem to do much, after all, other than advertise a small packet of data which a phone or tablet listens for and receives. Once your phone knows that it’s in range of a beacon it can figure out how close it is and then act accordingly – pull a coupon for cookies from the ‘cloud’ say, if you’re close to the snack aisle; or giving more information about a painting if you’re in a gallery.

But where most mobile businesses or retailer apps have been focused on the idea that what you see on your phone is what you get, iBeacon and Bluetooth LE challenge us to think of the physical world as a key part of the user experience.

iBeacon Hackathon: San Francisco Edition

Tonight, I’ll be judging a Hackathon being held by the folks at BeMyApp. If you’d like to watch the 14 demos you can join me in Google Hangout as I judge from afar.

I’m really excited to see what the participants have come up with – and think the event is part of a larger tipping point that might start seeing less focus spent on hacking another chat app and more energy spent thinking about how physical spaces can be made more social, more tactile, and more engaging because of their merger with digital. (Check out the summary of day one).

According to the posted project summaries on Hacker League, some of the apps include a few that deal with real pain points. Among them:

  • Using iBeacon to make shopping at IKEA awesome (although I’d settle for tolerable)
  • BeaconCityTours promises a combination of guidance and serendipity next time you visit a city
  • And most important Beercon, which lets you buy beer for others!

Hacking Is For Everyone

While the teams finalize their pitches in San Francisco, it isn’t just weekend coders who are getting into the iBeacon act. Netflix has been experimenting too. During a hackathon amongst their engineers, they used iBeacon to allow you to instantly “beam” a video from one device to another:

Chris Miles, meanwhile, is hacking Bluetooth LE with an Arduino board and LED lights:

Join me tonight for the Hackathon judging or stay tuned for a follow-up post. And remember: Be The Beacon(TM).

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