Beacon Ad Networks: The Best Way to Destroy a Developing Industry | Guest Post

While some beacon companies turn to Ad Networks as a savior, doing so would destroy the industry. That’s the premise of our guest author Alex Ball, CEO and Founder of Signal360. He takes a hard look at whether beacon companies should turn to ad revenue to drive growth.

Why Beacon Companies Are Turning to Ad Networks

A year and a half ago Apple released “iBeacon,” a marketing name for a software callback added to the iOS Operating System SDK. To marketing teams at Entertainment, Hospitality and Retail Companies, it was as if Apple had sent an edict as to the future of marketing. It seemed, and continues to seem based on news reports, as if beacons are now at the core of every marketing campaign. However, all those months later, the number of real world implementations are miniscule.

One of the first stated implementers of the technology was Major League Baseball at stadiums across the US. Two seasons later, the technology is deployed at a small subset of stadiums and is delivering only a single welcome message through an application that has downloads of only eighty thousand compared to the tens of millions who visit a ballpark each year.

With the Apple iBeacon announcement have come thousands of “beacon” companies. Every company premises itself on the amazing vision of content being delivered in aisle. However, many of these companies are currently closing shop or pivoting as hardware prices dropped, initial enthusiasm has waned, and companies come to term with the fact that large enterprises buy complete turnkey marketing solutions, not hardware.

So far the story follows a typical arc for a technology; initial outpouring with many competitors, natural pivots and closings as the market is winnowed down to the few companies providing an adequate solution. The problem is that as beacon providers have struggled to effectively signup and integrate with enterprises, many in the industry have turned to an Ad Network as the saving grace.

The Premise of Ad Networks

The premise and promise is that instead of convincing retailers of the value proposition, proximity companies instead try to integrate their SDKs into a variety of 3rd party applications and hope to deliver across networks of physical devices installed in malls, retailers etc.

The recent Lord and Taylor press release stated that the company had embraced Proximity Marketing in its stores. What was not stated explicitly was that the app being used is a 3rd party coupon app and the Lord and Taylor app does not include any proximity functionality.

Unnamed sources at Lord and Taylor informed us that the quoted cost for integration was in the ten of thousand of dollars but that was deemed too expensive. To a company with approximately one million in revenue per store last year, this shows a disappointing precedent of being unable to produce even a small amount of value from proximity marketing. This is not the utopian or even dystopian vision of beacons everywhere, this is a big tease.

..And The Peril of Ad Networks

What’s the danger of Proximity Marketing taking the easy road of integrating with and creating Ad Networks instead of direct with retailers?

  • The danger is that the public’s first interaction with Proximity Marketing will be for a game app to suddenly send twenty notifications as a shopper travels through their grocery store.
  • The danger is that the Retailer will lose the ability to personalize, to learn from its customers, to improve and strengthen its brand and sales.
  • The danger is that the entire Proximity Marketing industry will be permanently damaged. Instantly the power of proximity will be branded by consumers as a spam mechanism for coupons.

The problem with the ad network approach is one of ownership. Because Proximity Marketing is a complex process that requires a retailer, a physical beacon, a smartphone application, interesting creative, feedback mechanisms to control rate of delivery, notice and choice and more; this is not something that fits into the standard agency model of a quarterly ad buy.

When the retailer is not the owner of the experience, then the policing of the content and the relevance is left to the Ad Network which is interested in impressions not in long term value add to the consumer. Proximity technology has the promise of being a powerful weapon in the physical retailers fight against ecommerce; it lets the retailer own the physical and digital experience, giving customized experiences and value to the customer.

So what’s to be done?

There are retailers who are staying the course. At Signal360 we have the pleasure of working with many NRF100 retailers who chose us because of our turnkey and complete solution. Today we have won the RFP’s, integrated into the apps and are deploying at major retailers across the country without sacrificing consumer experience for a seemingly easier path.

What does the future of Proximity Marketing look like?

A few proximity marketing providers will offer complete and turnkey systems to assist retailers deliver in house proximity marketing.

These well crafted and contextual messages will meet with mostly intrigue and interest by consumers as we have seen with our implementations. As consumers become more familiar with the technology and the use cases, and on a case by case affiliate basis, brands will be allowed to deliver into the retailers apps and select 3rd party applications. This will open the door in a controlled way and most importantly keep the ownership with the retailer. Ever since the dawn of the Internet, retailers have seen many of their advantages chipped away. Not so with proximity, retailers will finally own their physical as well as digital space.

Count us in to that vision. That’s something we want to be a part of. Because in the end its what will be good for the consumer and thats what matters.

Guest Author

Alex Ball, CEO and Founder of Signal360. Signal360 a leader in proximity marketing solutions with over four years of experience creating a differentiated, turnkey, best in class proximity platform.

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What do you think? Will brands be able to resist the call of ad networks? And what will it mean for consumer acceptance and the success (or failure) of beacon-focused companies?

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Apple Launches an iBeacon [and they call it a watch]


The speculation was correct. Apple launched its own iBeacon.

But it didn’t come in the form you might have been expecting. Instead, you’ll strap it to your wrist and in so doing, the power of beacons to help make sense of the world around us will have a very personal, tactile and physical connection – right down to our pulse, the steps we take, and the friends we send our heart beats to.

Setting aside the lust-worthy bands or Swiss-level precision of the bevel (check out the “Watch Guy” to learn why), the Apple Watch is clearly more than a beacon. It’s a fusion of industrial design, software and sensors. But for those of us working in the world of beacons it’s a reminder that the power of proximity won’t rest in a one-to-one relationship between dumb and smart devices, but between many smart devices connecting to many other smart devices.

Dumb Beacons, Big Challenges

The challenge for the ‘becosystem’ will be breaking the lock on the mental model which was facilitated by the first wave of proximity beacons.

Companies like Estimote established the standard: they promised that simple, elegantly designed ‘motes’ could be popped onto the wall of your local store and deliver coupons or other messages.

And the uptake of beacons, whether in museums, Tulip gardens or your local coffee shop, was powered in large part by its seeming simplicity. The code you need on an Apple or Android device is relatively simple: a few lines in your software and your app can listen for beacons and, once detected, do “stuff”.

The initial challenge was to figure out what that stuff should be.

This turned out to be harder than most folks imagined: because suddenly, you had to shift from designing for mobile devices to designing for something far more messy and imperfect.

Namely, the physical world.

Push the wrong message at the wrong time and you’re suddenly sending a “Nice to See You” message in the toilets rather than the front door of your restaurant.

Reality is fuzzy, filled with interference, there’s little clarity between the shoe department and accessories even though the ‘zones’ might seem like they’re clearly marked.

Reality wasn’t designed to be digital and yet the promise of digitizing the grocery store was compelling enough to at least try.

What we discovered, however, was that even though beacons are relatively dumb, you need to be reasonably smart about how you deploy, manage and create experiences around them.

Beyond the Dumb Beacon

We’ve called beacons the gateway drug to the Internet of Everything.

On their own, they pose intense design challenges – challenges which, it turns out, can’t always be tackled with the elegance they deserve. And we admit that we went through months of trial and error and testing to even approach getting those challenges right. (Thankfully it’s pretty much all we do, so we had the luxury of focus).

Until now, the use of beacons has mostly focused on treating them solely as ‘dumb’ devices.

Powered by Bluetooth Low Energy (or Bluetooth Smart), beacons are, after all, not much more than radio transmitters that broadcast small packets of data which are picked up by nearby phones or other devices.

But the power of beacons is both a product of the paradigm they represent, and the exponential value they provide when coupled with other technologies.

Bluetooth Smart (BLE) uses a service-based architecture upon which profiles are built. Even excluding technologies such as passive WiFi monitoring, BLE itself has over a dozen ‘profiles’, from proximity (which powers beacons) to heart beat monitoring, time monitoring and “find me”/link loss services.

Add in chips to detect humidity, a gyroscope and an accelerometer and suddenly a simple beacon becomes a tiny powerhouse of data.

The Tempo

The Tempo is still one of our favorite devices. In spite all the beacons we’ve seen and tested, these little ‘stones’ still have the best app-side user interface, the best design, and give Apple a run for its money in terms of form and function.

And they’ve recently added iBeacon support. Richard Hancock, CEO of Blue Maestro,  tells me that “Through the app, users can turn on iBeacon mode and it will act as both an environment monitor and an iBeacon at the same time by intertwining broadcasts.”

“Tempo is particularly suited to use cases where iBeacon functionality and environmental monitoring is important, such as in museums, historic tourist attractions, transportation networks and stadiums.” He explains that “as iBeacon functionality is expanded by Apple (and Android), we will have the potential to do neat things with Tempo, such as automatically determine whether the environmental data has been harvested and, if not, trigger the download from the device, without having to involve a user.”

The device isn’t just beautiful to hold. The app isn’t just a rock solid interface which, you know, actually works. (I can’t tell you how many times we scream in frustration at the beacon companies whose apps time out when trying to pair so that you can recalibrate the settings).

Instead, Blue Maestro reminds us that “beacons” are already more than just proximity – they’re turning into incredibly powerful, multi-sensing machines.

The Smarter Cloud

Coupled with smarter devices is the smarter cloud.

Kontakt, for example, has launched its Cloud Beacon. Its power doesn’t rest, however, in the fact that it’s WiFi enabled. Its power rests in the simplicity with which it lets you manage fleets of beacons and harvest anonymized data.

Kontakt, whose sole focus is beacons, brings its not insubstantial expertise to the task of extending a simple beacon into a full network that combines WiFi with cloud-based control.

But from another angle, companies like Salesforce.com, propose extending existing ‘smart infrastructure’ in order to extend it to beacons:

Why The Apple Watch Reminds Us of the REAL Future

But these developments pale in comparison to the real power of beacons.

We’ve long proposed that beacons represent the first in a paradigm-change for computing:

  • Proximity is different from location. Whether through beacons, Google’s Project Tango, or increasingly refined ambient signal detection, we’ve entered an era in which we can know what we’re close to, whether a stationary shelf or a moving vehicle.
  • Because our devices can now ‘see’ what they’re close to, the physical world itself is becoming a digital interface. This blurring of the digital with the physical means that there will soon be no offline.

And if our phones can ‘see’, and if our devices are also beacons (which is the case with Android-L capable phones and Apple devices) then it means we can also see….each other. And our devices can start to talk. And if our devices can start to talk, they can also start to do so without us even necessarily participating in the exhange.

Google Now gets us where we need to go. Our Apple Watch will gently tap us on the wrist if we’re driving in the right direction.

These ambient cues may still connect us to our devices and make us aware that they’re working on our behalf, but over time they’ll be more ambient and calm than pushy and forthright.

Lights in the Muji Change Room – One Day, They Won’t Need You To Touch

Objects will glow. Digital signage will subtly change. The change room in your local store will switch its lighting to show how your outfit looks in the actual light that you typically find yourself in.

And your watch.

Your watch is the new skeumorphic. Mostly familiar, mostly simple looking, it even tells the time and has a crown.

But as a beacon, it takes sensors, broadcasting and connection to a new level.

Your pulse is a text message. A gentle tap on your wrist is an interaction with another beacon.

Your watch won’t just be a connection to dumb devices planted in the world around you. For better or worse, your watch turns your physical body into a digital interface.

Mesh networks, continuity between devices, objects talking to each other, and our very pulse are creating a new canvas upon which digital interactions will be deployed.

We’ve said that with beacons, we’re inviting engagement with the physical world through the most personal object most of us own (our phone).

But Apple Watch and other wearables are extending this metaphor into even more personal spaces, into even more personal realms of data and connection, and are part of a network of nodes which is larger than we can conceivably imagine.

So, What’s Your Channel?

We spend a lot of time thinking about beacons. Trying to figure out how to deploy 10s and 100s of thousands of beacons keeps us awake at night worrying about signal interference and sun spots. (OK, well, we DO have our moments of random terror I suppose).

But what’s more challenging, and we think more interesting, is what it means for the user to be walking through an array of beacons that cover entire towns.

A visit to the grocery store can be a utility or it can be a cultural exploration. A wander down Main Street can be a chance to browse and window shop or it can be a chance to connect to community. A digital billboard can be an ad, or it can be the start of a story, an aspiration or an adventure.

The Internet gave us access to a universe of stories. Social media connected those tales to others. Beacons connected them to the physical world. And wearables bring them back to the domain with which we still have our most visceral and emotional connections: the physical world, our selves.

Apple and Samsung and Nike have invited themselves onto the most personal real estate there is. But it’s the connection of these devices to the world around us that creates the truly profound change – and gives both the ability for data to be harvested and experiences to be driven, pushed and personalized; and for us to understand these connections as a new art form, a new network of pulsing, ambient and personal power.

The motto of this site is Be The Beacon.

Now, more than ever, we are.

Toronto Dsrupted – Join Me!

I’ll be presenting this week at the Dsrupted Conference in Toronto. If you’re interested in beacons, digital signage and the next generation of ‘screens’ and devices you should join us.

Share Your Thoughts

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

Thoughts on wearables? Comments on Apple Watch? Drop them in the comments below.

And a side note: if you’ve commented before your contribution should immediately appear. But I’ve turned moderation back on because the darn Akismet spam filter just doesn’t seem up to the task. So, apologies in advance if it takes me a bit of time to approve your comment.

Apple, Android and Beacons: Lessons from a Live Event | Guest Post


Location based advertising has been a holy grail for retailers for a long time and until now there were no reliable and cost efficient solution to manage it. Beacon technology has a potential to solve most challenges of location based advertising. However, developers feedback based on real experience is still scarce.

When we were asked to create an app for the biggest technology and progress conference in the Baltics  “Login 2014“, we saw an opportunity to get real hands-on experience with beacons and delight visitors with a new experience. It was a good chance to start small but firm and test how beacon technology can enhance future use cases. We are Lemon Labs and we’re ready to share our experience from the first event with beacons.

Use Cases

The Login 2014 conference was a 2-day event with visitors and presenters speaking two languages, so when we thought about use cases we need to take that into account. Additionally, we did not wanted to display the same messages over and over again, so we developed 2 variations of each message. Conference partners were very enthusiastic about this opportunity and we had no trouble finding companies who wanted to try this new way of reaching a customer.

Use cases varied from simple greeting message when entering a venue to brand awareness campaigns by big corporations. We even had our own use case, where a beacon wrapped in tin foil was unwrapped during our presentation, triggering a wave of notifications.

Here are few examples of messages we used:

Technical Overview

While our iOS and Android applications had the same functionality, they had one big difference and it was how they handle beacons.

When the app is running in the foreground, everything is nice and smooth – both iOS and Android beacons are detected in a matter of seconds. But the more interesting part is background, which is the most likely state for the app.

Apple introduced OS level service for beacon scanning starting from iOS 7.1.  This means that even if your app is closed, iOS will notify the app that beacon is in range. In theory, this should happen in near real-time, although Radius Networks had different experience (http://developer.radiusnetworks.com/2014/03/12/ios7-1-background-detection-times.html ). In our experience it varied, but stayed at a more or less reasonable level.

In Android however, there is no such OS level service for beacon scanning in the background and you need to create you own service just for that. As with any running service on Android, it drains the battery – the only question is how much.  Well, it depends on how often you scan for beacons. Based on our tests, 30s intervals between the scans has very little impact on battery life (the service consumes 1-2% of battery life).

In general, beacon scanning frequency is a major factor to take into account when designing user experience around beacons.  If you want to place a beacon in your shop to promote generic message- it’s not a deal-breaker, but if you want to notify the user about discounted items at the particular place down the isle, success rate might be very low simply because users walk by the place during the idle period of beacon scanning service – which statistically is more likely to happen.

In our experience, a general rule for designing beacons UX is not to bet on short interactions with “immediate” location beacons – there’s a higher probability that user will miss it and so it should less often be used in real-life scenarios, at least for now.

The Event

When the big day has come, our team eagerly waited for the visitors reaction. In a nutshell – it was a success but there were 3 challenges which we would like to mention.

The first thing we noticed when we came in the morning – one beacon which we placed outdoors stopped working completely (it was cold outside the night before). Thankfully we had spare beacons with us and replaced it quite quickly. That caught us by surprise, because the beacons we used were waterproof and brand new.

This little misfortune didn’t hurt our enthusiasm as the show went on. After talking with some visitors we quickly discovered our second challenge that certain users with iPhones do not receive messages even though the settings were correct. Reboot helped to solve the problem and only recently we discovered that iOS 7 bug was to blame – http://beekn.net/2014/05/beacon-bug-apple-loses-ibeacon-ranging-drives-developers-mad/ .

Last but not the least, visitors with older Android phones were quite disappointed when they found out that BLE is only supported on 4.3+ devices. Android fragmentation makes it difficult once again to promote beacons among Google-loving users.

Overall, people who did received the beacons seemed quite intrigued – it was different for them than a generic push notification they were used to getting randomly.

As the conference neared its end, all beacons were still in place and fully operational. We had integrated analytics into our app so as the event ended we went to check the results.

The Statistics

In total, there was a bit over 2,200 application downloads for both iOS and Android (the split was about equal).  For comparison, there was 3,000 visitors so in general 2/3 of the visitors had the app installed.

Below are the statistics about how many times the beacons were triggered during the conference:

Beacons detected iOS 5100
Beacons opened – iOS 1763
% of beacons opened – iOS 35%
Beacons detected – Android 2585
Beacons opened – Android 2149
% of beacons opened – Android 83%

 

For iOS case the beacons were detected 5100 times, or about 5 different beacons per user. Out of these triggers, 1763 times the message was opened. The conversion rate was 35%, which is a good result compared to overall ad efficiency.

In Android, however,  detections were twice as low as iOS, despite equal number of downloads. Most likely it’s because of fewer devices sporting a 4.3+ android version which is required to detect beacons. On the iOS side, all phones starting with iPhone 4S support beacons, which leaves only one unsupported model – the original iPhone 4, which is disappearing from the users pockets at a rapid pace.

Other important difference was the Android conversion rate, which was more than double compared to iOS. This might be happening for a few reasons:

  1. In Android we offered to enable Bluetooth during the on-boarding and in iOS users needed to do that manually.
  2. Beacon notification in Android could appear anywhere one the screen, not only in the app itself, which most likely had an impact on the conversion rate as well.

iOS 35% does not look so impressive anymore compared to android’s 83% and taking into account that beacon support in Android will only get better with time, after few years it might offer very compelling use cases for the masses.

Overall, we were quite happy with the results – there were no big failures and people seemed positive about location-based advertising. By carefully selecting use cases and adding a bit of extra work, everyone could enhance their events with new approach to advertising.

Guest Author

Vytautas Sernas is a product manager at mobile product design boutique Lemon Labs. They help startups and companies to migrate their online business to mobile and optimize it for growth. You can follow the company on twitter @lemonlabs.

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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Apple Cracks Down on iBeacon for Android

Apple is cracking down on associations of Android devices with the iBeacon spec.

The move may hint at a larger war to own variations of the standards by which our phones ‘hear’ Bluetooth LE (BLE) beacons.

Vendors have started complying with guidelines set by Apple and have, as a result, been forced to ‘scrub’ their products of any references or connection between Android devices and their detection of iBeacon protocols. The net result is to create new difficulty in programming an Android device to hear an iBeacon…and a potentially growth of confusion in the market.

A Beacon is Still A Beacon if it Isn’t an iBeacon

To an outsider, the move probably seems obscure…or obvious. Why should an Android app be able to ‘hear’ an Apple iBeacon after all?

But an iBeacon is a device that transmits a signal using an open standard (Bluetooth) according to some specific criteria set out by Apple, and protected by all kinds of NDAs and trademarks. We know, for example, that a device which carries the iBeacon trademark is supposed to broadcast at a specific frequency.

But an iBeacon is still a Bluetooth device. In theory, any device with the right software and radio receiver should be able to ‘hear’ the signal.

For Apple, an iBeacon Isn’t *Just* BLE

But Apple clearly has a reason to think otherwise. Their moves seem to be saying:

  • We have a standard for BLE transmission, and have certified devices and trademarked a name under which that standard is carried
  • Association of that name and standard (iBeacon) with non-Apple products is a non-starter for Cupertino

This attitude may extend to the code. When Apple launched iBeacon with iOS7, they released SDKs to help developers detect beacons (and to turn any phone or tablet into a beacon). This code includes things like beacon ranging and distances….protocols whose algorithms are invisible to the developer. Apple may feel that their methodology for ranging beacons is also protected, and may be taking steps to avoid Android devices mimicking their approach. (This is, however, entirely speculative on my part).

Developers Forced to ‘Scrub’ Their Android Libraries

The increasingly closed-off nature of Apple’s iBeacon ecosystem came to our attention this week with a blog post by Radius Networks CEO Marc Wallace in which he announced that the company was taking down some of its products and documentation:

Prior to Apple introducing their iBeacon License Program, there were no clear guidelines from Apple on iBeacon trademark and intellectual property (IP) usage. Apple has since made great strides in formalizing their program and communicating the appropriate usage of iBeacon as a trademark and proper handling of iBeacon IP.

As a certified Apple iBeacon partner, we feel that it is important to respect the terms and spirit of our agreement. As a result, we have made the following changes:

  • Removed documentation describing the technical details of iBeacon advertisements.
  • Removed iBeacon-related libraries, SDKs and application implementations for mobile devices other than iOS devices.

We understand that you, our valued customers and partners, may be impacted by these changes. Please be assured that we also understand and appreciate how important it is to provide proximity solutions for multiple mobile device platforms, so we ask that you stay tuned, as we have additional exciting solutions that we will be introducing very soon. We believe that these new updates will ultimately create stronger and more robust solutions for our customers and our partners.

The post left the specific changes obscure. But the primarily deletion from the Radius product catalog was its ‘iBeacon library for Android’, shown in an older screen shot below:

By way of comparison, here is their current page:

Their GitHub repository shows the following:

Update: The Note From Our CEO is no longer active. See below.

Will Apple Pull Out the Patents?

At first, the iBeacon name was primarily window dressing for devices that transmitted signals according to the Bluetooth proximity specification.

Apple registered the iBeacon name, released the capacity to detect beacons with the launch of iOS 7, and then went mostly quiet. At the time, I speculated that Apple was either waiting to see how developers and manufacturers would use the capability before deciding on its own strategy, or perhaps didn’t realize how quickly the ‘becosystem’ would grow.

But they’ve slowly tightened up their claims to the iBeacon name and the IP that drives it.

The latest moves follow recent changes in their app approval process, in which the company started to reject apps in which the end consumer could input beacon UUID numbers. At the time, we speculated that Apple might be increasingly shifting to an attempt to “lock” its own version of beacons into its ecosystem:

But coupled with this change is another app approval policy that’s rarely noticed. Because while the specification of iBeacon would seem to suggest that Apple requires all beacons carrying the iBeacon trademark to have an “open” transmission, the reality is quite different.

Apple IS in fact allowing secure ‘coupling’ of app to beacon through the use of non-iBeacon protocols.

In other words, Apple is quietly allowing apps to securely “handshake” with an iBeacon, creating a secure connection between phone and beacon and preventing the UUID number from being publicly broadcast to any device other than phones with the requisite app.

These two things may lead to a fork between beacons that are configured to transmit to Apple devices and “open” beacons that, while vulnerable to hijacking, can’t even be ‘seen’ by Apple devices. If Apple makes further moves in the direction of closing off which beacons a device can listen for (and how) it’s possible that the iBeacon trademark (which is, for now, more of a branding benefit than an actual one) might soon represent a closed ecosystem of beacons that work with Apple devices and a parallel (and more open) system of transmission to Android phones.

But where might Apple go next?

The company owns a significant portfolio of patents related to iBeacon technology including some of the more common use cases. Patently Apple reports, for example, that:

Apple’s patent FIGS. 15A-G show embodiments of several different types of location-based content that may be provided to a media device in accordance with the principles of the present invention. FIG. 15A indicates various location-based content that may be provided in connection with a merchant that sells goods and articles of manufacture. For example, a user may access music (e.g., being freely broadcast by the establishment or for sale on content source), advertisements (e.g., coupon specials, video advertisements, and audio advertisements), event calendar (e.g., to learn of exciting new events that may be occurring at the merchant), virtual card information may be exchanged, podcast, general information on merchant (e.g., return policies), product information (e.g., graphics of products, reviews of products, etc.), or any other suitable information pertinent to the merchant.

The patents are primarily focused on communication of data wirelessly and so may be a narrow subset of current iBeacon use cases. But Apple clearly has ammunition in its patent armory should it choose to use it.

It’s Not the Device, It’s the Ecosystem

There was rampant speculation this week that Apple would launch its own iBeacon device. It arose from the discovery of an FCC filing for a USB-powered beacon.

I don’t personally see the device as anything much more than an internal tool at Apple….there’s nothing in its specification that hints at a mass market product.

The real moves that Apple is making aren’t around producing devices, they’re in a slow creeping enforcement of its specification, trademark and IP.

One Android “iBeacon library” has been scrubbed. What will follow?

Update

The post at Radius has since been taken down, possibly to repost it to the main blog. We’ve reached out for comment. The full post is reproduced here:

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Android “take-down”? Or simply a trademark enforcement measure? Is Apple making substantive moves to ‘close off’ iBeacon? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments….some of this is shrouded in layers of shadow!!!

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

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?