While Beacon technology is not exclusively limited to Apple, their announcement of the iBeacon as a way to extend location services in iOS brought beacon technology to the forefront of next generation mobile. But how do beacons differ from existing mobile location technologies such as GPS and wifi positioning?
Beacons are all about proximity to a location and interaction within an area, whereas mobile location data says you’re at a singular fixed location on a global map. Beacons enable custom geo-fences and awareness around spaces. For example, inside a retail store Beacons can map out of the specifics of how a mobile user interacts aisle by aisle in real-time. Alternatively, mobile location is primarily used ahead of time in the delivery of advertisements with localized messaging. Adding mobile location to marketing has become a no-brainer with brands and retailers for path-to-purchase campaigns, but now the industry noise has moved to Beacons.
To get out in front of privacy concerns, the general limitations of implementing Beacons requires customers to opt-in to the technology embedded within applications and have Bluetooth enabled. Permissions given do not transfer between mobile applications and the physical Beacons themselves only work with applications they’re registered to.
Even though the small devices only have a range of 50 meters, the promise of Beacon analytics is fairly sophisticated. Beacons can tell when a user enters or leaves a store; they can be used to set notification triggers if a customer lingers in a specific area; and even understand when a registered beacon user is not within the range of any beacons. Before worrying about how Beacons will change our lives, the deployment of actual Beacons in market is currently not widespread among retailers. Beacons themselves do not exclusively reside indoors for personalized shopping experiences. They can also exist outdoors in public spaces, on points of interest or landmarks, and even within product packaging.
Recent changes in iOS 7.1 allowed for beacons to activate mobile notifications even when an application is closed, similar to Apple’s Passbook notifications. Be ready for more services to start asking if you want to opt-in to Beacon background technology.