In the last couple of months, iBeacon is making a lot of noise. iBeacons are small wireless sensors placed inside any physical space that transmit data to your phone using Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as Bluetooth 4.0 and Bluetooth Smart). Using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), iBeacon opens up new opportunities by creating a beacon around regions so your app can be alerted when users enter them. Apple quietly rolled out the iBeacons framework as part of iOS 7, but lots of iBeacon manufacturers (Estimote, Roximity Beacons, Adomalay, Kontact etc.) are already emerging. It is going to play an important role in several areas.
Indoor location services
With built-in micro location geofencing features, iBeacon opens the door to a new set of applications in indoor/in-store mapping. With more precise location abilities, indoor navigation/maps can go way beyond current implementations that are based on GPS/Wi-Fi. The GPS signals inside malls are very poor as the signals travel by line of sight—meaning they will pass through clouds, glass and plastic, but will not go through most solid objects, such as buildings and mountains. Google has done in-store maps, but it couldn’t implement indoor navigation because of the line of sight issue. This is where iBeacon’s micro-location feature is going to shine. From your smart phone, you’ll be able to connect to the nearest iBeacon and get its hard coded GPS location to navigate, or use the signal to move to closer to iBeacon. With the custom store app, you can search for any department and it can provide walking directions to that department.
Watch this Nokia demo to get an idea about indoor navigation:
According to ABI research, the indoor location market will reach $4 billion in 2018, fueled by wireless technologies like iBeacons.
Traditionally in-store marketing is handled by fairly generic flyers. With iBeacons you can target the customers with more personalized offers based on preferences, history, their current location within the store, or weather information. For example, if we know a man is shopping in the kid’s section, we can push an offer for something in mens to get him over there.
Looking at in-store marketing and proximity marketing, the potential payoff for retailers is huge.
With in-door location services, you can attract nearby customers with relevant offers. The shopper may not be planning to visit your store, but if you push a relevant offer to his smart phone, he may be tempted enough to visit, and even end up buying. For example, letting people know where they can find umbrellas when the forecast calls for rain (as seen in the Nokia demo video).
A new in-store shopping experience
Combining indoor location services with proximity/in-store marketing, iBeacons will take your in-store shopping experience to a whole new level as illustrated below (images courtesy: Estimote).
Imagine that John has a custom store app on his smart phone and is walking by a store. The beacon installed outside the store sends an offer to his smart phone saying “Hello John! We’ve got some special offers for you on jeans!” John wants to check out the promotion. Once he enters into the store, he receives walking directions to the promotion item.
John finds the jeans and another beacon sends a personalized discount offer to his phone. With enough beacons, you can get more precise information like which stand he is looking at (for example, blue color Buffalo jeans).
John continues to the shirts section and a new beacon sends a new message recommending a T-shirt that goes well with the jeans he saw.
The shopping experience can go beyond the personalized offers and recommendations to payments, ratings and reviews etc., thus opening the door to whole new experience customized for each person.
Huge payoff with small cost
The cost is not too high, due to Bluetooth range. iBeacon’s range is 50 meters (typical Bluetooth range), or about 7800 square meters. So a typical Macy’s store of 175,000 square feet would need two or three iBeacons. Currently iBeacons cost around $35 and the price will go down as we are seeing lot of players in the market. If you want to further customize the offers based on department/precise location, you can add more beacons. Even if you go with the recommended range i.e. 10 meters, you need one beacon for every 300 square meters, which would cost you about $1,800.
You can’t buy beacons right away, but you can pre-order them. It is going to be very difficult to develop and test applications without beacons. There are ways to turn iOS 7 (with BLE support) devices into iBeacons, but you may need more than one beacon to test your application.
If you want to pre-order, here are some options:
Estimote is actively taking pre-orders and the cost is $99 for 3 beacons.
Kontact is taking pre-orders.
Other options, if you are not in rush:
Roximity beacons website says it costs $10 per month. Not sure whether it is per device or per solution up to ‘n’ beacons. No clear details on the pricing and shipping.
Sonic Notify website don’t have any details on pricing and shipping.
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