Our clients are always looking for new and exciting ways to engage more with their customers using the latest technologies and to be honest we love messing about with new gadgets and bits of kit. In recent months we have spoken to a number of clients who want to know more about the 'Beacon', or 'iBeacon', so we thought it appropriate to share what we think could be the biggest thing in 2015 and beyond.
What is a Beacon or an iBeacon?
Beacons are a totally seamless and contact-less technology that use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Simply download an app, then everything else is automated in the background. Walk up to an Beacon and the app wakes up and sends you a message, unlocking a world of possible interactions. The Beacon can then determine the location of the phone up to a range of between 1 and 20 metres.
An 'iBeacon' is specifically used in Apple's iOS devices, so iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, but the technology also exists in newer Android phones and tablets as well but the latter is referred to generically as a Beacon. Additionally any device with Bluetooth capability can be turned into a beacon, so a computer or a phone. iBeacons run on iPhone 4S and above, iPad 3 and above (including iPad Mini and iPad Air), iPod Touch (5th generation and above), Samsung Galaxy S3 and above, Samsung Note II and above, and devices running Android 4.3 & 4.4.
How much do beacons cost?
As the technology is still relatively new, the cost is still quite high relative to the size of the Beacon itself. There are a range of different pricing options depending on the look of the Beacons, the quality of the materials used and the battery life of the product. For example one Beacon can set you back anything from £10 to £30, however, as with the majority of new consumer electronics, the cost is likely to fall as it becomes more popular and widespread, which we've already seen happen across the industry.
Some beacons are even designed specifically to exist outdoors, so come with waterproofing and in a hardened shell meaning they can withstand the elements for a few years. This helps extend an experience relying on beacons from inside to outside in a seamless fashion.
What are its potential uses?
The great thing about Beacons is the wide range of entertainment and enterprise applications, so it's not just a consumer gadget, but something businesses can use to their benefit.
The exciting thing about Beacons is the variety of tasks that they can be put to in a B2B environment:
- Position a Beacon near an entry point to the building and you can provide an easy way for staff to clock in and out. Providing your staff and visitors have downloaded your app prior to turning up, you will also be able to track when they have entered and left the building. If you are situated in a particularly large building, Beacons can be used to enable visitors to locate meeting rooms, bathroom facilities or of course the coffee machine.
- Booking a meeting room becomes easier with a beacon system because users will have access to information such as who is in the meeting room and they can be alerted when they leave. Imagine if you were to leave your desk and your computer would automatically lock itself and set your status to 'away'?! These things are all possible using this technology.
- Security is a very important factor when running a business and Beacons can be used to enable authorised personnel to access the building, or certain areas of the building. The technology can also be used to track the location of people to analyse and improve internal movement in the building. In the event of a fire, the system can be used to make sure everyone is safely out of the building.
- Beacons can be used to make sure employees follow health & safety legislations when at work. The beacons could be positioned near risk areas and employees will receive a checklist on their phone making sure they are following the correct procedures.
- Install a Beacon near the front door of an office and when an executive arrives they can be presented with an immediate task list or company performance report, allowing them time to catch-up before they even reach their desk.
The most common use for Beacons in the retail industry is to ping promotions, adverts and offers to customers as they walk into a shop, or walk near to a specific section within a shop. Shop owners can push their app to customers, as well as ask them to sign up to newsletters and other such media.
This technology is also strong when it comes to payment systems. The beacon can hook up with an app to allow the customer to scan and pay for their shopping without the need for any interaction with a shopkeeper!
Conferences, Events & Hospitality
There are a multitude of ways that iBeacons can be used for conferences and events:
- Before the event, visitors and exhibitors will be asked to download an app, that allows them to register their attendance. Once at the event, the Beacon registers that the visitor has attended, reducing wait times and cutting out the registration queues. When the visitor gets into the event, they can be sent information on exhibitors, maps of the building and news feeds just by walking near to beacons.
- For exhibitors and organisers, Beacons can allow them to engage more with their potential customers. They can entice people to their stand and once there, can capture the visitors' details without having to reach for the badge scanner.
- Beacons could allow you to find people to network with at a specific location based on specific criteria.
- Enabling data & analytics within an event space to map out and track customers movements, behaviours and interactions.
- Hotels in particular open up a world of possibilities with door entry systems; customer navigation within the building; self-service check-in, check-out and payment processing; rewarding customer loyalty; and ordering room service.
Museums provide an opportunity to use Beacon technology to create an enriched visitor experience as opposed to merely pushing offers and promotions to customers. Using Beacons, museums and galleries can offer guided tours, audio / visual guides in multiple languages, information about artworks, interactive quizzes as well as offering the ability to zoom in to the art using the app. In some cases, augmented reality has been used to create an added layer of engagement.
You could even stick a Beacon to the side of every bus stop in the country, immediately giving everyone who queues a message telling them what time the next bus is and where it will stop.
Advantages vs Challenges
The technology itself is relatively simple and highly portable. Beacons are about the same size as a matchbox, so can be placed inconspicuously but also moved if or when its needs change. So if you find a position isn't working for you, just pick it up and try somewhere else. Additionally Beacons are passive, so unless you have a compatible app installed they won't bother you, but if they do link with an app on your phone it allows businesses to identify you and deliver a more personalised experience - you remain in control of your privacy though.
The biggest challenge to businesses looking to adopt beacons, is getting customers to adopt the associated app and give their permission - without that initial engagement from them, you can't link up and deliver anything. Once engaged however there's also a risk of over-engagement and pushing too many messages so you need to be careful you're not bombarding people leading to customer apathy. Location can only be derived by triangulating several beacons together, so isn't 100% accurate but also means you need to process lots of data.
Where can I find out more information?
We are really excited about working with Beacons and iBeacons and are already making some cool things happen with the technology. If you would like to know more about iBeacon technology, please visit our sister website Nearer or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.