Kontakt to its Customers: You’re All Doomed


Kontakt, one of the largest manufacturers of beacons, has a message for its customers: you’re all doomed.

In what might rank as one of the more bizarre examples of corporate messaging, the company’s founder has taken to LinkedIn to pronounce that with the arrival of the Eddystone beacon protocol (and related services) by Google, proximity companies are headed for the dust bin if they don’t radically change (and soon).

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, proximity devs: it tolls for thee,” proclaims Szymon Niemczura.

But extending the logic of Szymon’s article, you can’t help draw the conclusion that it isn’t just the devs who will pay the price for Google’s entry into the market.

If you’re a retailer, a brand, a museum, a car company, a city or a theme park – you too should just throw up your hands and give up now.

Google will own mobile moments, the borg has arrived, and closed off becosystems will look something like AOL in the years to come: a walled garden that no one visits anymore.

And Apple? Naw. Says Szymon:

With a vanishing share of the smartphone market, the last thing the house that Steve built wants to do is give developers even more reason to jump ship.

Ah yeah. Poor Apple. Poor shrinking tiny little Apple. It’s hard to remember that they’re still around! It will be cute to see what little features they try to throw at us to protect their ever-vanishing market share and profits.

What’s Your Secret Sauce?

Now, I like Kontakt. They’re some really really smart people.

(Although, what’s with the videos that look like they were shot at summer camp? And by the way – audio engineering is a thing).

So maybe they have a secret sauce as Szymon claims: “At Kontakt.io, we think we’ve found our special sauce that will keep us growing and thriving as giants of the Internet space like Google, Apple, Facebook, and others compete over who earns what from the IoT.”

In response to which I have a question: China?

Because if Szymon’s observations are true, then the beacon itself has become king. The app layer, the SDKs and the software, the cloud services and back-end analytics will be swallowed up by the Web.

The promise of Eddystone is that you can turn your beacon into a Web endpoint and simply broadcast a URL.

And if that’s true, then it opens up the opportunity to flood the market with cheap beacons from China that do nothing more than broadcast a URL.

Do You Jump Into Bed With Google?

Setting aside the tone of Szymon’s article, it points to a larger question.

Because what’s clear is that Google has hit a home run. Eddystone is everything a beacon should be.

Google took a page from the Apple playbook: wait for the industry to develop, cherry pick the best ideas, and then come out with something that does everyone else one better.

The Eddystone format is brilliant.

But now you need to make a decision: do you go “all in” with Google, do you try to find a middle ground, do you focus on the “app-less” layer or combine different proximity experiences to create a unified customer journey?

Creative Tensions Between Open and Closed Systems

The way you answer the above questions will have a big impact on what kind of beacon you buy and what kind of customer experience you want to create.

In an interview with Kontakt, they clearly think that the “app-less beacon world” is a big deal:

Along with yesterday’s release of new Chrome browser for iOS with support for a Physical Web standard this became clear – proximity devices are able to communicate with our phones without the need for other apps. This means a Physical Web is finally visible and ready for broader adoption.

But here’s the problem: what does “communicate with our phones” mean?

Is that all we really want to do? Is your vision of the mobile world one in which the Web has won?

Szymon is right:

“10 years in Internet is effectively forever, and it’s a rare startup that considers what the landscape will look like as far out as two years, but this matters, so I’ll point it out: native capacity to push alerts and more direct from beacons to devices kills a huge number of app use cases.”

Truly, the traditional definition of an “app” is eroding.

There will be apps that sit on your phone but that you’ll never use on their own. Instead, they’ll be shared as ‘sheets’ inside other apps, provide deep linking capabilities, and sit as a kind of invisible thread across an ecosystem of experiences.

But that doesn’t mean that apps will be replaced by whatever Google has to offer, anymore than it means that HTML will win in the war against native.

Which is why Eddystone does more than just broadcast Web pages (although its ability to do so will open up some pretty great user journeys).

Like many engineers, Kontakt seems to be more interested in the transactional nature of systems than the very real human experience they entail.

(Just look at Kontakt’s Web site or its developer portal and you’ll see what I mean – they feel like were designed in 2002 by a bunch of engineers one weekend).

The implication here is that in the tension which will always exist between open and closed systems, the pendulum has swung: open will win, Google is right, native is disappearing and apps are dead.

If you’re willing to make that bet, great. Go for it. At least you’ve taken a stance! And perhaps in the longer arc of history you’ll be right – but until then we still have to worry about today.

What Kind of Beacon Will You Use?

In response to questions about Eddystone, Kontakt tells me that you’re going to need to make a choice (at least for now) in which of their beacons you choose: Eddystone OR iBeacon.

Why? Because battery.

In an interview, Kontakt tells me:

Our beacons broadcast 4 different frames one after the other: 3 advertising packets (Eddystone-UID, Eddystone-URL, Eddystone-TLM) and a scan response. To the best of our knowledge, Kontakt.io is the only company on the market who has offered that from day one.

We have been investigating the possibility to add also an iBeacon frame to the set, but broadcasting that many different packets is going to cause a pretty heavy battery drain. While we research ways to help keep a useful battery life on our product, we will also be looking at client demand for this feature. We don’t have any timeline on when we may roll this out, as it’s very much just in R&D right now.

Which is odd, considering that if you don’t interleave with iBeacon, then your beacon battery might be fine, but the iOS user’s won’t be. By relying on Core Bluetooth instead of the native framework from Apple, you can expect Apple users to take a hit on battery life if you’re solely relying on the Eddystone format.

These kinks might be worked out, but it’s an obfuscation to say that it’s your beacon’s battery which is the sole limitation.

In fairness, Kontakt isn’t entirely advocating a “throw out your iBeacons” stance. If you’ve got some of those old beacons lying around then sure, why not, you should hang on to them. (But I guess you should know that you’re missing out on some huge potential):

Every discussion regarding iBeacon and Eddystone formats, and which one fits our client needs better, always starts with a question about use case details. Eddystone opens new possibilities, but at the same time requires more complicated coding to integrate as it sends more types of data than iBeacon does. Beacons that use Eddystone-TLM format to send telemetry data (such as temperature data) will have shorter battery life because they are sending more data packets etc. All of that needs to be taken into account before we jump on the Eddystone bandwagon.

In general, I think that “switching” is probably not the correct choice for anyone with a live deployment right now. Anyone with a P.O.C. that’s running, though, or someone who’s in early tests? I would strongly encourage that those people try this out because this whole platform is growing in exciting ways and has huge potential.

For many use cases, an Eddystone URL format beacon might be fine. You might be able to move the needle a bit on customer engagement.

For everyone else, there are larger questions at stake.

Kontakt itself hints at this future. With the coming wave of mesh beacons, the company’s Cloud Beacon takes aim at what will happen when the next Bluetooth specification starts hitting the market. The company tells me they have big plans, and that those plans validate why its Cloud Beacon format isn’t threatened by Google’s Proximity API:

Our Kontakt.io Cloud Beacon remains the only enterprise-level tool for beacon monitoring that we’re aware of: if you need to be able to guarantee that you are scanning and looking at beacons in a given area at regular intervals, a Cloud Beacon is your best bet. On top of that, Cloud Beacons are part of our other real competitive advantages: security and sharing.

In the future we will introduce completely encrypted channels for communication between beacons, cloud beacons, and smart devices. This, combined with powerful features such as our scheduled profile shuffling (driven by our API) and the industry’s only Power Sleep mode designed to extend beacon battery life, means that the Cloud Beacon still has very strong USPs that make it an attractive prospect for any company looking to roll out beacons on the large scale.

An Industry Transformed

The industry has been transformed with the launch of Eddystone.

For beacon manufacturers, a new wave of low-cost alternatives from China will put pressure on them to tighten up the value-added services they provide, the relationships they have with developers, and the level of execution they put into their user documentation, community management and marketing.

For developers, the range of opportunities has expanded rather than contracted.

But while Eddystone might seem to cut through the clutter and remove barriers in app development it also creates a richer, and thus more complex suite of choices for brands, retailers, cities and cultural institutions.

I have deep faith in this industry.

I don’t need to give any of you a wake-up call or tell you that you’re doomed. Because for the 100s of proximity companies I’ve talked to, and for the hundreds of brands and retailers we’ve interacted with (and who are doing their best to make sense of a rapidly changing world), I’ve found that optimism in the face of progress is the best guarantee of innovation.

And this week, we’ve entered a new era in which to thrive.

Share Your Thoughts

Join our e-mail list for more on iBeacons and BLE. Join the conversation on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

How will you respond to Eddystone? Is this a new era of doom or one of innovation?

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iBeacon and Why Apple Streaming Music Might Be Free

Apple can make its streaming music service free. And it’s because of iBeacon.

The New York Times reports that industry analysts are predicting a tough climb for the company’s new streaming music service. Apple will need to shift from the pay-to-download model of iTunes toward the all-you-can-eat-buffet of streaming music. And in doing so, it will need to get the support of a music industry that can now turn to Pandora, Spotify or other services to push back on pricing and access.

But these reports are looking for the Apple advantage in all the wrong places – focusing on apps and pricing, iTunes and vivid visuals.

And while those things might be important, Apple has advantages that other streaming services don’t.

This includes access to a platform for music which is larger than the Web and bigger than mobile – a platform made possible, in part, by iBeacons.

Apple Is – Gasp! Not The First-Mover

According to Toni Sacconaghi, a financial analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein, Apple is late to the game.

“They’re used to being a shaper rather than a responder,” Mr. Sacconaghi said. “This is one of the few times where Apple is playing catch-up and not necessarily coming from a position of strength.”

Which makes me wonder what universe Sacconaghi is analyzing, exactly.

History has shown the opposite, of course. The entire Apple business model is based on coming late to the game – letting others get there first and arriving later with far superior products, whether music players, tablets, phones or watches.

If there’s a company on the planet who has shown it knows how to excel at coming second it’s Apple.

Regardless, the media seems happy to create a narrative in which there’s a good old-fashioned showdown between entrenched players like Spotify and the “newcomer” which is Apple.

Is The Apple Advantage an Interface?

These reports predict that Apple might have a shot because…well, because it will have a shiny interface:

The new music app, which is a collaborative effort between Mr. Reznor and other Apple and Beats employees, including Jimmy Iovine — who founded Beats with the hip-hop star Dr. Dre — will feature the streaming music service with many of the same characteristics as the Beats Music streaming service, one Apple employee said. Those may include curated playlists and a more vivid visual appeal, while conforming to Apple’s sleek and minimal design aesthetic, one person said. The name Beats Music will most likely be shed.

More vivid visuals. A minimal design aesthetic.

I can hear Jony Ive now, luxuriating over how every single pixel is perfect, hand drawn from molten gold with every musical note optimized down to nanogradients of sound.

The larger Apple advantage isn’t, of course, an interface. (iTunes has survived just fine even in its current incarnation as a benchmark for horrible UX design).

Apple’s advantage is its ecosystem, from the hardware to software, continuity between devices, and connectivity to your iPad, Apple TV or coming Watch.

If nothing else, Apple could drive a user experience which adapts a music stream based on whether you’re running or working out, can shift a stream from your iPhone to your home speakers with the flick of your thumb, and connect the mood of your music to the Philips lighting in your living room.

This ecosystem on its own, in addition to 800 million iTunes users, can give Apple an edge, regardless of the monthly price.

But there’s another frontier worth considering and it has nothing to do with the device in your pocket or the technology in your home. Because elsewhere the physical world is becoming a digital interface.

And streaming music could, one day, be embedded in things, with iBeacon showing us the way.

iBeacon and The Battle for Physical Space

iBeacon is Apple’s trademark term for Bluetooth Low Energy devices. By sending out a small radio signal, beacons allow our phones and other devices to “see” the world around them.

Beacons are being used in museums and public gardens, shopping malls and parking lots. They let the owner of a “place” send out a push message, a coupon, a piece of media or a special offer to a user’s phone via a ‘beacon-enabled’ mobile app.

Unlike NFC or QR codes, the user doesn’t need to do anything. Their app can be closed but their phone will still listen for beacons.

You can trigger a lock screen message or your app can just be a lot smarter when a user opens it up – sensing nearby beacons in order to present contextually relevant content.

Beacons represent one technology amongst many that are enabling digital interactions with physical space. Anything you can do online can now be triggered by people, places and things. You can “Pin” a store display, Tweet a painting in a museum, or browse a catalogue in the hardware store.

Often conflated with the Internet of Things (which generally refers to the ability of sensors and devices to talk to each other) they nonetheless represent a larger trend towards a fully connected physical world in which billboards know who you are (Minority Report style) and products on a shelf can talk.

Unlocking the Value of Proximity

This convergence of the physical world with digital affordances represents what we think is a platform that will be larger than the Web, which will be more disruptive than mobile, and which will enables new forms of value creation that weren’t previously possible.

With beacons we can link media, content, data and social interaction to the “last meter” of human experience. We can create digital engagement at the point of purchase, we can nudge users from one gallery to another in a museum, we can connect how we live, work and play to increasingly smart and data-driven systems.

This opportunity is both massive and massively frightening.

The convergence of the digital and physical worlds leads to self-driving cars and delivery drones, an apocalypse of artificial intelligence and the benefits of medical research conducted at massive scale.

It also unlocks value that was previously either unavailable, obfuscated or difficult: because if I can connect what you do on a phone to your presence in physical space, if I can connect a piece of media to the point of purchase, it means I can create a connection between digital media and physical activity or product purchases.

It’s this convergence which could both lead to a ‘renaissance of retail’ and its (even more) massive disruption.

In a future of beacons, we’ll see the “AirBnB of grocery” and the “Uber of retail”.

And we’ll see how things like music won’t just be portable. Their value will be embedded in everything.

The Next Big Apple Play is Loyalty

OK, I hate the term loyalty. Because most loyalty programs aren’t about loyalty. They’re transaction-based rewards for purchasing stuff.

I hate the idea of a product called called Apple Loyalty – it sounds like an airline rewards card or a bonus system for owning a ton of Apple devices (buy 10 iPhones and get a free Beats headphone!).

But if there was a company that was going to reinvent the concept of “loyalty” who better than the company that knows something about loyalty? And who better than a company leading the charge on mobile payments, with a growing infrastructure of merchants and payment providers, with the ability for stores to register their locations, and with the software tools to make beacon-detection part of the retail landscape?

Think of it this way:

  • You have two coffee shops near each other
  • One accepts Apple Pay, has iBeacon installed, lets you order in advance, makes the experience of buying your cappuccino frictionless
  • It also has a system in place where you show up, buy a coffee, and your Apple streaming music account is topped up or you’re able to pick up a recommendation from the staff or others who have visited the store

Or imagine going to a concert at a local club and there’s a “powered by Apple Music” sign at the front entrance.

You join a pop-up social network, you share some of your favorite Apple Music streams with fans nearby.

And once you leave your Apple Music account has been personalized, you have access to exclusive band interviews or raw clips from their last recording session, and your streaming costs for the month have been reduced by half because the concert promoter kicked back an account top-up with your ticket purchase.

An Apple patent for iBeacon imagines concerts as venues for media delivery:

Apple’s patent FIG. 15C indicates various location-based content that may be provided in connection with a concert or other music venue. A concert or music venue may provide content including, for example, music, setlists, virtual cards, website information, schedule information (e.g., for upcoming shows at the venue), graphics (e.g., album art, pictures of the band members, etc.), ticket sales (e.g., provide user option to purchase tickets in advance), general information relating to the concert, or any other information.

It’s not loyalty in the traditional sense. It isn’t about transactions it’s about experiences.

And it leverages the power of beacons: because for the first time, physical venues have a financial incentive and an ability to measure digital interactions against real-world behaviour.

If I own the coffee shop and I become an Apple Loyalty location I’m doing it because I can drive more foot traffic to my store compared to the one down the street. The fact that you as the customer get rewarded with Apple Music, if you get a bonus song instead of $2 off your next purchase, so much the better. I’d rather reward you with something you LOVE anyways instead of reducing your bill the next time you visit.

The coffee shop wins. Apple Music wins because it gets more “listens”. And the consumer wins because someone else is partly footing my music bill, and their experience of “place” becomes more deeply grounded in their digital and physical life.

iBeacon, Apple Pay and Apple “Loyalty” are simply the facilitating technologies which will help to triangulate our digital lives, our physical visits, and the interests of the places that we go.

Apple Everywhere

Apple isn’t alone in wanting to own the path you take through the world.

While Apple is focused on closed ecosystems and what I think of as “deeply connected” experiences, Google is coming at the same challenge from a different direction – using the “cloud” to provide an always-on, “deeply ambient” suite of technologies to help guide you through space.

Best typified by Google Now and Google Waze, their goal is to quietly collate where you go and how long you visit with its massive data sets in order to predict and present content that will become increasingly smarter and smarter. Google will know where you’re going before you’ve even decided yourself.

For Apple, the future is smart devices connected to relatively dumb “clouds” (an idea reaffirmed by Tim Cook’s focus on privacy).

For Google, the future is a smart cloud connected to relatively dumb devices.

But both are on a path to take your experience of them out of your pocket and into your home, into the stores you visit and into the music you listen to, television you watch, and games you play.

Beacons are part of this larger journey – dumb devices against which value can be assigned, music unlocked, experiences created, with the result being an absolute blurring of the lines between our digital personas and our physical bodies as they move through space.

Share Your Thoughts

Join our e-mail list for more on iBeacons and BLE. Join the conversation on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

What do you think? Will Apple Music be more than just another version of ‘streaming beats’? How might it connect to Apple loyalty, Apple Pay and iBeacon? Drop a comment below.

Adding iBeacon to Your Mobile Strategy | Guest Post

Ever since Apple deployed Beacons across 254 of its stores in the US, there has been a substantial buzz around these tiny devices, that businesses believe will act as the magical bridge between the offline and online worlds. According to a recent study by eDigitalResearch, 78% of consumers agreed that they would be happy to receive personalised messages from retailers.

As museums like The Neon Muzeum and Rubens Arts Museum, and hotels such as The James and Starwood Resorts get to grips with the technology behind beacons, consumer opinion indicates that these low-cost pieces of hardware have a huge potential to revolutionise experience across industries.

Although beacons are gaining momentum, many businesses are struggling to figure out how to integrate beacons with their existing mobile strategy. Here are seven steps every brand should take prior to launching their beacon strategy.

 1. Choose between having an app or not

To reap the benefits of iBeacon technology, you need to have a mobile app with which the beacon can communicate and interact with. Most brands are trying to enhance their customers’ experience by adding location-based elements such as indoor navigation, contextual notifications etc., to their existing app.

(a) Build your own mobile app

Retail brand, Tesco, recently deployed beacons to push messages through their app to notify customers in store, when their online order is ready for pickup. Adding on to that, with the recent iOS 7.1 update, retailers can now use beacons to wake up their branded mobile apps, even if they are shut down. Once your customer is in close proximity to specific beacon, the app will listen for beacons and sent a message through the lock screen. Thus, it helps you enhance your customers’ shopping experience through effective customer service.

The downside here is that, unless the brand has their own development team in place, app development can be quite taxing. Moreover, it also requires brands to handle beacon deployment single-handedly. This can be quite expensive, especially if they have multiple branches across the globe.

(b) Customize a generic app

You can also choose an existing generic app, such as a one that is optimised for your target market say museums or stadiums, and then use dedicated tools provided by them to customize the app to your needs. This way, it not only helps you easily provide a rich user experience, but also simplifies app development to a great extent.

For example, Fluwel’s Tulpenland (Tulip Land), a theme park that specializes in displaying Dutch tulips, recently customized mApp, an app developed by LabWerk specifically for museums, that wish to offer a good experience to their visitors. The app uses interactive content  such as images, video and audio to tell the story of tulips in a very personalized manner.

(c) Integrate with an existing sales app

If you don’t already have an app in place, then this is probably the best way ahead. The main advantage here is that you will be providing your service through an app that already exists on your customer’s smartphones. From PowaTag, a mobile commerce app with 240 leading retail brands on board to Vente-Privee, a leading mobile commerce app in the European market with 5000 partner stores across France, the market is abound with services that offer retailers an opportunity to send their customers relevant contextual messages in-store.

Adding on to that, there are other companies that offer services allowing brands to take advantage of an already existing iBeacon network. Condé Nast’s 19-year-old recipe warehouse, Epicurious, for instance, leveraged inMarket’s iBeacons to deliver push notifications on recipe suggestions to shoppers’ apps and thus drive in-store sales.

Integrating with an existing sales app, however, comes with its own set of disadvantages too. Not only will your brand’s message drown under those of others, but with too many brands pushing notifications through the same sales app, you are sure to annoy users. The only way to fight it, is to craft smarter messages that add value to your customers’ context.

(d) Integrate with Apple’s Passbook

While mobile apps are one of the most commonly used ways to leverage beacons, they are not the only ones. You can also tie up with Passbook, an existing ‘utility’ application on Apple devices, with your iBeacons. The primary advantage here is that, it does not require your customers to download a third-party app. They can just add a store-specific pass or loyalty card to their Passbook and once in-store you can detect a user’s location using iBeacons to trigger various messages and offers through their ‘Passbook’. This will save you the hassle of creating your own app.

Key Takeaway:

If you already have a branded app that is used and valued by your customers, then you can easily build upon it by adding location-based elements to the app. On the other hand, if you do not have an app, you can simply integrate with an existing sales app or Apple’s Passbook.

 2. Focus on proper communication

When it comes to location-based mobile marketing, it is highly crucial that you have a strong understanding of your customer’s context, including their purchase history, current location, and proximity to beacons to push relevant content and access to services. At the same time, you must ensure that you don’t overwhelm your users with notifications, as it could nudge them towards opting-out or un-installing your app.

The key here is to have a deep understanding of the value you can offer your customer and deliver it in the best way possible. You can start by focusing on making the message more contextual and valuable. For example, most customers appreciate helpful, relevant and timely concierge reminders when they are in-store. You can use this to your advantage by pushing alerts reminding them of a recent recipe or items on their shopping list. That way your marketing techniques will continue to add value to their shopping experience.

Key Takeaway:

While pushing relevant content helps boost sales, ensure that you don’t overwhelm customers with notifications, as it may cause them to delete the app altogether.

 3. Arrange for remote beacon management

Going ahead, once you deploy beacons in large numbers across the country, remote beacon management will become highly important. This requires beacons to have some sort of network access while empowering brands the ability to detect each beacon, and turn it on or off via backend. This is one of the main reasons why brands are considering the using beacon platforms while deploying beacons on a large scale.

Key Takeaway:

If you need to deploy beacons on a large scale at multiple branches across the country, then it is best that you leverage a beacon platform to simplify remote beacon management.

 4. Use multiple beacons for improved accuracy

Though the iBeacon technology works best at increasing indoor-location accuracy, it is very important to keep the level of accuracy in mind while deciding on a multi-beacon solution. The more accurate the positioning you require, the more the number of beacons required to be deployed.  If you are leveraging beacons to navigate your customers or visitors around the venue, you may not need as many touchpoints as required in the case of helping them locate a product within the store.

Key Takeaway:

While deciding on a multi-beacon solution, consider the level of accuracy in mind. The more accurate the positioning you require, the more the number of beacons required to be deployed.

 5. Equip your employees to offer better customer service

You can also use beacons to capitalize on the multichannel habits of today’s shoppers. For example, a retail store can equip their sales associates with tablets and smartphones that integrate with beacons to alert them when a customer reaches out to them for assistance from within the app. That way, these smart stores can use the location information of their customers to accordingly send the sales associate with the right amount to expertise to the right department. Further, you can use beacons to send important customer information based on the items pinned by a particular customer on pinterest or products on his/her wish list, to help your sales associates bring up additional product details.

Key Takeaway:

You can empower your sales associates by integrating their mobile devices with in-store beacons in order to alert them when a customer reaches out to them for assistance.

 6. Ensure that your app is secure

When it comes to beacons, privacy has long been a major concern among consumers. This, however, is a misconception about beacons. They’re only capable of identifying a particular mobile device’s proximity to beacons and any notification is triggered only by the app and not beacons. Beacons, by themselves, cannot track or collect data about customers.

Further with Apple having recently locked off the ability for users to manually input Beacon UUID numbers into an app, apps can no longer scan for beacons that aren’t their own. You/your developer has to program your app by actually specifying the UUID of the beacon that it is connected to.

Key Takeaway:

Although, privacy has long been a major concern among beacon consumers, beacons by themselves can not track or collect data about customers. Test your app for such security vulnerabilities.

7. Integrate with your marketing strategy

Once you launch a beacon-enabled app, the next crucial step is to integrate it into your overall marketing plan. You can modify your email and social media campaigns to drive app downloads and encourage people in close proximity of the beacons to give it a try.

Key Takeaway:

Ensure you drive more app downloads for your beacon-enabled proximity marketing strategy to be effective. Plan your promotional campaigns in advance to increase your ROI.

Thus implementing a context-heavy iBeacon strategy can result in superior customer engagement, better sales and higher brand awareness. The above mentioned pointers will help you integrate iBeacons into your marketing strategy with ease.

Guest Author Bio:

Ravi Pratap is the CTO of MobStac, a mobile platform company enabling location-aware apps for content and commerce. MobStac’s Beaconstac platform enables businesses to deliver superior customer experiences through the use of iBeacons for engagement, messaging, and analytics. The company was founded in 2009 and has offices in New York and Bangalore.

He can be followed on twitter at @ravipratap or you can connect with him on Linkedin.

iBeacon and Education: Bringing Beacons to the Classroom

iBeacon and related technology has a role in the classroom. But while it’s great to have a cool technology for the classroom (acetates on overhead projectors were probably once considered the height of interactive teaching) it’s just a gadget if there isn’t well-considered andragogy or pedagogy.

I’ve spent the better part of my career exploring education, how we learn, and how this changes our behavior awareness or capacity as people. So it’s a great delight to share this guest post by Jody Baty, a Senior Consultant and Project Manager at Roamable, who examines how beacons can be used in educational settings.

iBeacons for Learning – Part 1

The first thing worth understanding about training is that classroom-style learning simply does not work very well. The fact of the matter is that anyone in a classroom style learning environment forgets 75% of what they’ve learned after just 2 days.

We’ve had this information for a long time – over a hundred years, in fact. Hermann Ebbinghaus proved it in 1885 with what he called The Forgetting Curve:

 

C:Usersmpijba6DesktopEbbinghaus.png

Since then, it’s been proven and re-proven by study after study.  That’s dismal information for companies who have taken pride in creating informative training programs that encompass everything an employee needs to know (aka ‘the binder’). If they’re not getting what they need out of training, how does an employee become competent?

 Mostly, they do it by trial and error on the job.

mLearning to the Rescue

Mobile learning (or mLearning) can support an employee in a hands-on environment with a resource that gives him the right support at the right time. With mLearning, he can pull out his mobile app and get training, retrieve a job aid, or connect with an expert in real time. He can consult his app as he completes the task to be sure he’s doing it right, and he has the information available again if he needs it in the future.

The trick is how to get the right support at the right time?  Unfortunately a lot mLearning is just classroom style training ported to a mobile device. What’s missing is context.

And that’s where iBeacons come in. They’re all about providing context.

Adding iBeacons to the mLearning Mix

iBeacons have the potential to provide contextualized learning based on a user’s proximity. To demonstrate how this might work, we developed a simple concept app called Beacon Learn.  Its purpose is to initiate a dialogue with clients as to how they might consider using iBeacons to support Training and Learning in their organization.

The Beacon Learn app demonstrates four Use Cases:

  • Context Sensitive Training – delivery of the right content, to the right user, at the right time.

  • Job Aids – step by step guides presented to the user with compliance tracked in a Learning Record Store using the xAPI.

  • Expert Locator – using their iPhones as a iBeacon, experts can make others aware of their presence and availability for mentoring.

  • Emergency – although not really a training function, the ability for users to alert others of an emergency on the shop floor is a very useful feature that can be provided using a combination of iBeacons, M7 motion coprocessor and indoor mapping (iOS 8).

Use Case #1 – Context  Sensitive Training

Login Screen.pngHome.png

 

After initial login, the user is presented with four possible options to assist in on the job training/performance support. When a user selects Training, all training content relevant to the user and within the Far Proximity is presented, although it is inactive. Content is activated when the user advances to within the Near Proximity, as below:

Landing.pngIn Range.png

 

If the item is selected, training and support options specific to that user are presented.  They can watch a short demonstration video, access a step-by-step job aid, determine their competency with a quiz, or file a help ticket.

Printer Training.png

All interactions are tracked and reported back to the Learning Record Store using the xAPI. This is often an important point for corporate learning departments who are interested in using learning analytics for compliance or ROI purposes.

Stay tuned for part 2 of iBeacons for Learning where we will explore the other Use Cases presented in Beacon Learn along with the Future of Education in an iBeacon enabled world.

About the Author

Jody Baty

Jody Baty is a Senior Consultant and Project Manager at Roamable, where he specializes in Learning Management Systems implementations, Virtual classroom integrations, SCORM/AICC, xAPI, Content Authoring, and iOS-based mLearning apps.

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iWatch, iBeacon and What's Wrong With Wearables

iWatch Concept from Charlie No

When you working with iBeacon technology, the coming generation of wearable devices seems like a natural extension to how you think about user experiences.

What better place, after all, to push a welcome message triggered by a beacon than to your wrist? If you’re not asking your customer to take their phone out of their pocket every 15 seconds as they wander the aisles of the grocery store, surely you can increase information and message density if all they need to do is glance at their watch?

But just like the earliest press reports and experiments with iBeacon technology were mostly clumsy and focused on a narrow set of use cases, the way we view smart watches is partly wrong and is focused more on the retailer, hardware maker, or ad platform than on the actual person who needs to wear the thing.

What a Watch Means

I still remember my first watch. It looked kind of stylish with a gold edge and clean white face and serif font symbols. Wearing it made me feel – well, adult, I guess.

I suppose it was a status symbol – although I come from a generation where you didn’t measure your peers by the kinds of sneakers they had, so it was probably a less blatant symbol than a smart watch might be today. But it was certainly a marker – it said to ME, at least, that I had passed a border into some kind of pseudo adult world of responsibility and ornamentation.

To that end, Forbes speculates that the recent hiring blitz for wearables talent at Apple means they’re about to become a fashion company, ready to launch a luxury brand:

I contend that Apple is in the process of building a brand strategy that will make the smartwatch in general and the iWatch in particular ubiquitous in the high-end retail environment and in popular culture. Through this positioning all of the utility promised for health, fitness and contextual information will be delivered—but that is the cart not the horse.

And while this might seem obvious to the general consumer (a watch should look beautiful, should convey more than utility) it isn’t always obvious to tech-obsessed engineering focused companies like Google or Amazon. As Khoi Vin neatly summarizes:

When technology companies look at goods that are built from the outside in, they generally see irrationality and inefficiency, a broken market just waiting to be corrected and “disrupted.” They believe that they can engineer so much value into these items that people will be swayed to buy goods built from the inside out, that the promise that drives hardware and software—“adopt this and benefit from its utility”—will convince people to upend their sartorial habits. This is how you get products like Google Glass, which assumes that consumers prize utility so much that they’re willing to look like they have no interest whatsoever in having intimate relations with another human being.

The Control of Time

But my watch was also something else. While perhaps illusory, it was also a symbol of control. It gave me the chance to have personal control over The Time.

It meant I could manage it, segment it, keep an eye on it. Being able to “Watch The Time” was now personal, and I had the tool to do so.

In my generation, time was perhaps the defining anxiety. Popular culture imagined “a time” when we’d have more time for leisure and would need to dedicate less time to work. Technology was imagined as a time saver – meals could be prepared faster with microwaves, houses could be cleaned faster, we’d need to spend less time at the office. We were on the cusp of a society-wide leisure class, where time would be released because of technology and would give us more time for the things we love.

We were trying to shake the boundaries of time. Live longer, enjoy more, work less. Technology would make it possible.

But instead, time took second position to a new anxiety, a new obsession.

We don’t talk about time anymore – other than as subservient to a new age of anxiety, one driven by information. Time has been lost because we have to deal with too much information. Time isn’t the end game, the thing to be controlled.

Instead, it’s data we wrestle with: too much information, too many e-mails, too many tweets and wall posts and pins, too many late night text messages from our boss and too many feeds we feel we need to keep on top of.

We once wrestled with, dreaded and remained hopeful that we could control time. Now, we wrestle with, dread and remain hopeful that we can, somehow, control the flow of information.

We worship at the altar of the cloud, of Big Data, and information becoming smarter. But this comes coupled with anxieties over surveillance, information overload, and desperately looking for a new tool, a new dashboard, a new way to deal with the deluge of data.

iBeacon: Programmed to Receive

Bluetooth LE beacons are simple. They send out small packets of data which your phone receives and can then act upon.

From this paradigm, the design of user experiences seems to follow a natural progression to ‘pushing’ data and information to a customer based on proximity.

But as I’ve long argued on this blog, beacons very quickly challenge UX designers to think about user experiences in new ways:

  • How many messages are too many?
  • How do you trade off ambient and ‘push’ experiences?
  • If beacons are triggers to real world people, places and things – how does the physical world itself need to change to enable to user experience?
  • What happens when you have more than one beacon? What happens when people (like shop assistants) are beacons too?
  • How do you juggle the fact that a phone can detect more information density than a typical consumer – especially when you combine the information density of a phone with the visual density of a physical place?

And yet the current generation of smart watches treat the wrist as an extension of the “receive/broadcast” paradigm.

They’re just another screen that’s programmed to receive – whether ads, push notices, or directions to work.

Driven primarily by companies with a vested interest in creating more advertising space, wearables are treated primarily as another screen that’s meant to receive.

In contrast, health wearables like Fitbit or Nike Fuel are data collection engines. Ostensibly acting to motivate and measure, to give you a sense of control over the amount of exercise you do, the number of calories you burn, or the number of hours you sleep – they walk a difficult line between providing this sense of control and just adding to the problem – more data to parse in your already information-saturated day.

Smart watches are another ad screen (albeit with lots of other stuff wrapped around that idea). And health wearables are data gathering engines programmed to create more data on your phone, tablet or PC.

More data, more information, and less time.

A Clean, Well-Lit Space

In a seminal interview about virtual worlds seven years ago, Eben Moglen, an IBM fellow, spoke about the challenges of digital space on our sense of privacy and control:

I see again and again the ways in which people now find themselves unable to make certain life choices easily because there digital self has acquired an inflexibility that constrains their non-digital self…We understood when the Soviet Empire decayed that all over it were places where people felt trapped in webs of surveillance and betrayal and interaction that had a kind of sinister feeling even if there is no Gulag and there is no shooting. And many of us feel very uncomfortable with the changes in the society we live in the United States in the past several years where for us there is no Gulag, no shooting, no being swept away with out charges.

Social contracts ought to be available in a machine readable form which allows the (user) to know exactly what the rules are and to allow you set effective guidelines about I don’t go to spaces where people don’t treat me in ways that I consider to be crucial in my treatment.

It has got to tell you what the rules are of the space where you are it has to give you an opportunity to make an informed consent about what is going to happen given those rules. It has got to give you an opportunity to know those things in an automatic sort of way so I can set up my avatar to say, you know what, I don’t go to places where I am on video camera all the time. Self, if you are about to walk into a room where there are video cameras on all the time just don’t walk through that door. So I don’t have to sign up and click yes on 27 agreements, I have got (a profile) that doesn’t go into places that aren’t clean and well lit.

This concept of a clean, well-lit space has resonated with me for years.

And thinking of it now, it reminds me of my first watch: a device that gave me a sense of control, a clean interface to something over which I might not be able to change, but I could at least learn to accommodate, to live with, to manage.

The current generation of wearable devices might give me more information, and the data it presents might even be smarter…but measuring its utility (as Google did in launching its wearables platform) in the number of times I won’t need to take my phone out of my pocket (or the ability to order pizza) is a less compelling emotional story than my first watch – which gave me control over time itself.

Will The iWatch Transmit or Receive?

I have no idea what Apple has planned for its iWatch, obviously. But knowing their history in carefully balancing consumer trust, privacy and experience on the one hand, and developer tools and flexibility on the other, I expect them to tackle this issue of control in an Apple-like way.

Now, clearly, an iWatch will receive. It will be a screen. And a few months ago I would have imagined that its primary purpose would be to offload push messaging, step tracking, heart rate monitoring, music controls and other functions from the phone to the wrist. (And all of these things will likely be true).

But there’s potentially another paradigm in place – one that will be recognized by those who think long and hard about beacons. Because in addition to being another screen, data capture device and interface controller, I think the real value of an iWatch could come from someplace else.

Because what if, much like beacons, the iWatch was less a receiving screen and instead was more like a broadcaster? What if your watch was, like a beacon, a way to signal to the world around you: “I’m here, and here are the permissions I’m giving you, here are the rules of my being in this space, and if I choose to I’ll share my identity or let you send me messages and communicate.”

In this view, an iWatch (and other future wearables) shouldn’t just be a screen programmed to receive.

It’s a wearable form of identity and intent.

It lets the world know what you want to do today, what kinds of friends you want to say hello to, what kind of relationship you want with the store or the gym, what kind of cashless transactions you want to participate in, and what your rules are for clean, well-lit rooms.

Power, connection, control, a sense of self, a tool to shift the balance from the broadcaster back to the receiver. And maybe it will look cool too.

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iBeacon for Health: With BLE, a Nudge Will Do


Project Boundary wants to make you healthier.

By placing beacons at key locations, it encourages you to make better choices based on proximity, using gamification to reward participants.

A beacon at an elevator, for example, can send a message encouraging you to take the stairs instead. Do so and unlock the mountaineer achievement and get feedback for making the right decision.

Project Boundary was an entry in the SmartAmerican Challenge, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow project. The initiative uses Gimbal beacons and the Spark Compass platform to send messages that encourage healthier choices as you move through your day.

The project doesn’t just hold lessons for health and wellness – it’s a reminder that in this new era of contextual and proximity experiences, moving the needle can happen through a collection of small nudges.

In the past, I’ve called this the ‘seductive layer of the Internet of Everything’: a view to experience design that eschews big gestures and heavy-handed coupons or in-your-face advertising for a series of smaller gestures based on context.

We engage, suggest, provide contextually-relevant media. And if we do it right, we can encourage shifts in behavior.

You might not get everyone through the door with your beacon-driven push messages. But increase your foot traffic by 3-4% and it can make a big difference to your bottom line.

Small Nudges, Big Differences

SparkCompass
Erik Bjontegard Presents at the SmartAmerica Expo

The CEO of Total Communicator Solutions agrees. I spoke with him recently about Project Boundary, and about his vision for beacons and contextual experiences.

Erik Bjontegard was getting ready to present at the SmartAmerica Expo whose goal is to “boost American competitiveness and provide concrete examples of socio-economic benefits such as job creation, creating new business opportunities, improving the economy, improving/saving lives, by combining Cyber Physical System technology created from significant investments made by both government and private sector.”

Behind the scenes, Erik and his team had jumped through considerable hoops to install Project Boundary at the HHS offices.

“It’s been a rewarding project,” Erik told me. “what we’re doing is we think the first time that beacons have been used to encourage and reward healthier behavior. HHS is excited about it because with beacons we can encourage people to drink more water, to be healthy at the vending machine, to take the stairs instead of elevators. Our approach is to use beacons at key waypoints throughout the HHS building and assign points and rewards if participants make healthy choices.”

The use of Gimbal beacons were a natural fit both because the Spark Compass platform has been built around Gimbal, and because their security layer provided assurances to the security-conscious officials at a government building right next to the capital.

“We had to overcome some big challenges around security and confidentiality,” said Erik. “Plus, we had two months to launch a fully functional platform, set up the beacons, create a system that would give participants points, deploy a gamification layer – it’s been hard work but exciting.”

The demo showed off the concept of Project Boundary, although Erik’s team has been deploying Gimbal beacons in trade show facilities, hospitals and other venues.

Results That Matter

“What we demonstrated was built around two key components for the healthcare system: helping clients lead healthier lives, while keeping an eye on the ramifications for cost and efficiency. Our larger goal is to take Project Boundary out of office settings and into hospitals. If we can create a system that results in tiny shifts in behavior it can move the needle in a significant way.”

“A patient can receive a message the night before seeing their physician reminding them that their procedure requires that they don’t eat, or that they sleep well. Small shifts that can have an impact on the bottom line.”

But beacons are only part of the system, as they are in retail and other environments. Beacons are the “nudge points” based on proximity, but it’s how you integrate them with other data that can make a big impact.

“We use a hybrid model,” says Erik. “Our system also integrates with systems like Qualcomm Life, management systems, and patient databases. The key is to design experiences that change behavior, lead to efficiency, create healthier patients and improve the healthcare system.”

Privacy, Security and Your Very Personal Device

But as in retail, privacy and security are big concerns.

“Especially in health,” says Bjontegard, “We’re dealing with people on a very personal level and we can’t afford to abuse this. We now have a responsibility to value the relationship we’ve established through a very personal device. We’re establishing a personal relationship through a user’s phone, which has become an extension of their being. Wearables will make this more challenging. It’s up to all of us working with beacons and contextual technology to respect this relationship.” (emphasis added).

Indeed. And a clarion call to all of us working with beacons.

Because devices that encourage you to take the stairs are just the beginning.

In this new era, Erik says that “Content may still be king…context is queen…but contextual intelligence will allow the whole universe to work. Beacons are a small tool set that allows us to do that more precisely, to bring contextual intelligence right to your phone or wrist. But there’s a lot more coming.”

In this new era, we’ll look to today’s push messages as the first in a wave of contextual and ambient computing that gets smarter as we go through the day.

The challenges to security (handled in Project Boundary by the advanced security layers offered by the Gimbal beacon and services), privacy and user engagement that we’re exploring today will seem simple compared to the next wave of mesh networks, hub-and-spoke beacon models, big data and wearables.

Project Boundary is a reminder that small gestures and thoughtful design can lead us in the direction of a smarter, more connected and perhaps even a healthier world.

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Where will the boundaries of health and contextual computing take us? How do we respect the fact that a phone is “an extension of a user’s being”? And have you seen other examples of beacons in health and wellness?

iOS8: The iBeacon Revolution | Guest Post

Beacondo
Beacondo on iBeacon iOS8 | Photo via Beacondo

Indoor maps, increased privacy and instant discoverability: Why iOS 8 Will Again Revolutionise Retail Apps

by Ildiko Hudson, Beacondo

As the iBeacon ecosystem flourishes and the technology gathers momentum beyond early adopters, its limitations have become clearer: accuracy is sometimes poor, users have concerns that stores are spying on them, and even with the smartest beacon deployment imaginable it’s all for nought if users don’t even have your app installed.

With iOS 8, announced three weeks ago at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, Apple has addressed these problems head-on.

In particular, the development of indoor mapping could well raise the quality bar for retail apps that take the time to get it right. But before you get your hopes up, you should brace yourself: you’ve got some more work coming.

Why isn’t iBeacon enough for indoor positioning?

Apple has never shied away from iBeacon’s drawbacks. Yes, it’s poor at precise distancing, but it was never meant to be that accurate.

Apple’s own systems only offer four proximity levels: you’re right next to it, you’re a few metres away, you’re somewhere in range, or the beacon simply can’t be seen.

Sure, with enough beacons in a store and some clever mathematics you can try to triangulate a user’s position, but even then something as simple as a shelf in the way or the user’s body position makes it extremely hard to be sure.

With iOS 8, Apple is introducing a new indoor mapping system that can track a user’s location more accurately than before. This isn’t an easy feat to pull off, so Apple’s solution is two-fold: innovation on the device plus careful vetting of locations to ensure the deployment is sound.

Although Apple is keeping their traditional silence, it seems almost certain that the new indoor position system is based at least partly on WiFiSlam – a start-up acquired by Apple last year for a cool $20 million, able to position a user to an accuracy of about 3 meters in environments with significant WiFi coverage.

Clearly not all locations have blanket WiFi available, and this is where Apple’s device innovation takes over: as you enter a building your device will hand your last known GPS fix to its M7 processor, which tracks your motion. As you walk, distance from that start point can be gauged somewhat accurately, although it’s still not good enough for really precise positioning.

And that’s where iBeacons come in: the combination of a “last-known good” GPS fix, M7 movement tracking, WiFi triangulation and iBeacon positioning means that Apple’s new indoor positioning looks set to give a level of indoor accuracy as yet unimagined. Each of these technologies is imperfect by themselves, but the combination and synthesis of their data is what makes the end result good.

The somewhat mysterious half of all this is Apple’s vetting of locations.

The availability of indoor positioning is down as “coming soon,” and although three locations have been enabled so far (the California Academy of Sciences, Westfield San Francisco, and Mineta San Jose Airport) there’s no actual sample code for developers to work with so it’s hard to know what hoops venues will have to jump through to get indoor positioning enabled.

What we do know is that Apple has launched a new site, Apple Maps Connect, that allows venues to register themselves to be enabled for indoor positioning and as part of that process Apple wants to know whether the venue has WiFi and iBeacons installed, and whether detailed floor plans are available. We don’t know how onerous the process will be, but we do at least know that it’s unlikely to be a magic bullet.

Location privacy goes to 11

iOS 8 introduces a new way of working with user locations that is sure to prove popular with users, although it does mean we’ll need to work even harder to gain and keep their trust. The main difference is that location data can now be requested either only when the app is in use, or always – i.e., locations can be monitored when the app isn’t running.

Both of these have interesting quirks, but we’ll start with “always” mode because in the world of iBeacons we want beacons to be discovered when the app isn’t running. When apps request “always” permission, iOS 8 makes this clear to users with the message, “Allow ‘SomeApp’ to access your location even when you are not using the app?” This was the default (and only) behaviour in iOS 7, so the message wasn’t so specific.

But Apple hasn’t stopped there: because of the power this “always” mode grants apps users will now be asked again after a few days have passed: an alert appears reminding them that your app is monitoring their location and asks if they want to continue allowing it.

If you choose the new “when in use” option for monitoring location, the user will see a message in their device’s status bar telling them that your app is currently using their location – if you’ve used the GPS navigation in Apple Maps, you’ll be familiar with how this looks and works.

Increasing awareness of location-enabled apps can only be a good thing for users, but it will likely increase the chance that users opt out of location monitoring which in turn will hobble iBeacon-enabled apps.

So, be smart: don’t ask the user for their location until it’s necessary. For example you can wait until they tap “Find my nearest store” rather than requesting it as soon as the app launches.

App discoverability done right

Getting users into your app has never been easy, particularly when compared to the easy availability of websites. Smart Banners have certainly helped (and if you aren’t using them you certainly should be!) but it’s only solves the problem for users who actively go to your site.

With iOS 7, Apple introduced a “Near Me” section on the App Store that was awesome – at least in principle. But it turns out that few users decided to pause their shopping experience to check the App Store on the off chance that there was an interesting app available for their location.

As a result, iOS 8 takes the same concept and moves it to a much more prominent position – right onto the user’s lock screen. Just pause for a moment and think what that means for you: that app you spent so much time and money making only to see a few thousand people download it? Well, Apple is now going to promote it for you, straight to user’s devices.

The process is simple: if the user does not have your app installed and enters a location where apps are used, they’ll see the App Store icon right on their device’s lock screen, opposite where the camera icon is. If they unlock their phone using that icon, they’ll see a list of the popular apps nearby, and hopefully your app will be right there ready for them to install. If they already have your app installed, they’ll see your app’s icon instead of the App Store, and swiping to unlock that will take them straight to your app.

This new lock screen promotion offers an incredible opportunity for stores with apps to get noticed in a way that is just impossible with websites. That said, you do need to put some thought in to make sure you make the most of it. But you’re in luck: as iOS 8 isn’t available just yet, you have some time to prepare, so:

  1. Check whether your app appears in the “Near me” section of the App Store.
  2. See where your competition ranks: launch Apple Maps, tap any location on the map, then look for the “Popular Apps Nearby” information.
  3. Prepare a marketing blitz in your store: if you want nearby users to see your app promoted, you’ll need to make sure your existing customers are installing your app now.

The clock is ticking

Location context is fast becoming one of Apple’s cornerstones for app recommendation and promotion, so it’s no surprise that iBeacon has seen a quick uptake. But right now it’s a moving target: Apple are continuing to innovate and are unlikely to stop, which means we all need to work to keep up.

Yes, this does mean pain in the short term, particularly if you’re still getting to grips with the basics of beacons, but the end result will be a barrage of users upgrading to iOS 8 ready to take advantage of all your work.

If it follows the same pattern as previous releases, we can expect iOS 8 to ship sometime in September. Our advice: get ready now.

About the Author

Ildiko Hudson is the founder of Beacondo, a free platform that lets anyone build iBeacon-enabled apps for stores, hotels, museums and more. You can follow us on Twitter @beacondo.

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