What is the Apple iBeacon? How to Design and Build iBeacon Applications (Part 1)

iBeacon is Apple’s location-tracking service that was introduced at the 2013 Developer conference. With functionality built into iOS7, iBeacon uses Bluetooth Low Energy (LE or BLE) to allow the pinpointing of devices within an environment – a store, hospital, hotel, amusement park. Think of iBeacon as extremely accurate GPS for indoor environments.

Why Businesses Should Care About iBeacon

What’s the benefit? Simply put, iBeacon offers an opportunity for businesses to increase the amount of personalized content they deliver. Customers can receive messages that are informed by their current context or location, ultimately promising more relevant messages that lead to a better customer experience and more sales.

How to Design a User Experience for Use with iBeacon

The value proposition of iBeacon is its ability to serve up contextual information on a highly granular scale. For example, because an iBeacon can tell you the exact location of a user, custom, contextual information – a coupon, additional product details, an offer – can be sent to the user’s Bluetooth enabled device.

When designing the user experience, there are 4 core pieces of data to consider.

  1. Knowing when people enter a perimeter

  2. Knowing when people leave a perimeter

  3. Pinpointing the location (i.e., they are in the perimeter)

  4. Facilitating touchless payment – no need to go to the cash register

Use these data points to deliver timely and appropriate communications or actions.

Entering a perimeter:

  • Welcome message

  • Special coupon

  • Provide calendar of events or activities

  • Offer customer service

  • Push weekly sales flyer

  • Turn on lights

Leaving a perimeter:

  • Thank you for coming

  • Special offer for future use

  • Send a link to product on website

  • Prompt to share on social networks

  • Turn off lights

Pinpoint location: 

  • Develop wayfinding

  • Push information about nearby products

  • Offer customer service

  • Mark a parking spot

What is the iBeacon user experience?

While an iBeacon continually sends out messages, a user needs to opt-in to receive them. A typical user experience begins with the user downloading and installing a native app on their phone or tablet and configuring their preferences for receiving communications.  It is important to note that although iBeacon uses Bluetooth to communicate, a user does not need to pair with each beacon (unlike your Bluetooth headset). This attribute of the ecosystem vastly improves the ease of connectivity and the overall user experience.  

iBeacon: Which Devices are Supported?

Apple added iBeacon support in iOS7. It is also supported on:

  • iPhone 4S

  • iPhone 5

  • iPhone 5S

  • iPhone 5C

  • iPad 3+

  • iPad mini

  • iPad Touch 5G+

iBeacons will work with any device, including non-Apple, that has Bluetooth LE. Some Android models include:

  • Galaxy S3

  • Galaxy S4

  • Galaxy S4 Mini

  • Note 2

Business Applications for iBeacon

iBeacon is the next step in allowing businesses to provide personalized content to their customers. It improves and extends customer interactions by providing contextual and real time information. In addition, iBeacon bridges the online/offline experience by allowing users to interact with digital content in a brick and mortar scenario.