How Beacon Technology Is Revolutionizing Mobile User Experience

By Christian Mayer on Aug. 21, 2015 View Comments

Imagine running through the airport, late for your flight and fumbling to find your ticket. Now, let’s replay it: You’re still late but you’ve downloaded your airline’s branded mobile app so as you head through the security line, the app presents your boarding pass and provides directions to your gate. This more efficient scenario now occurs every day thanks to iBeacon technology that Virgin Atlantic implemented last year.

 

What Is Beacon Technology?

Bluetooth beacons are small Bluetooth Low Energy hardware devices that broadcast signals for other nearby devices, such as your mobile phone, to act upon once received. They're becoming a more common component of mobile application strategy, especially when it comes to retail and travel industries.

Interaction between beacon and device is not limited to phones and can be used with other Bluetooth-enabled devices as well. Once a device has received a signal, it can leverage the information from the Bluetooth beacon to provide the user with a relevant and contextual experience.


How Are Beacons Used Today?

Beacon applications are often used in the retail and entertainment industries as well as for medical endeavors and manufacturing. Some examples are notifications for discounts or providing contextual information through mobile technology based on location. Recently, iBeacon technology was used for the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity app to notify the user of nearby events and other attendees using the app.


New Advancements In Beacon Technology

Apple’s iBeacon technology was introduced with the release of iOS 7, so it’s been around for almost two years now. In addition, a few other companies have begun offering their own beacon formats. Google recently announced its beacon specification, named Eddystone, to compete with Apple’s iBeacon hardware specification.

At a high level, both Google and Apple’s beacon specification allow for beacon identification and provide the ability to let a device know how far from the beacon it is, but Google’s Eddystone specification made headlines for several reasons:

  1. Eddystone supports both Android and iOS (or any platform supporting Bluetooth Low Energy beacons).
  2. Eddystone is open source, meaning anyone can contribute to the specification and platform.
  3. The Eddystone specification allows for multiple “frame” types. Apple’s iBeacon specification has one type, a UUID or identifier, whereas Eddystone provides additional types:
     
    • UID - the beacon’s identifier, similar to Apple’s UUID.
    • URL - a compressed URL format that allows any client that receives this data to choose to visit that URL. Google notes the Eddystone URL plays a large role in an approach known as the “Physical Web”. In its description, users don’t need to download a native application just to interact with the data.
    • TLM - contains telemetry information about the beacon itself such as its temperature, battery amount or how long it’s been powered on.
    • EID - a secure ephemeral identifier. These identifiers are short-lived and can only be decoded by authorized applications.

Google has also developed an API named the Proximity Beacon API to allow for the management of data associated with beacons so that information is always up to date, preventing the need to re-provision beacons.


iBeacon vs. Eddystone

The primary differences are summarized here:

  Apple iBeacon Google Eddystone
Platform Support iOS iOS and Android
Frame Types UUID UID,URL,TLM and EID
Beacon Management 3rd Party Proximity API
License Apple Apache


Target, a billion-dollar retail giant, recently jumped at the opportunity to maximize sales and improve customer experience by rolling out beacon technology in 50 stores across several states.

A mobile experience that provides contextual information is undoubtedly one that a user will engage with often. Regardless of the specification differences, it’s clear that contextually-aware applications and mobile-friendly user experiences are going to become even more prevalent than they are today. Of course, only time will tell if Apple will see the need to meet the flexibility for which Eddystone is designed.

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