Apple iBeacons

Back in June, at WWDC, Apple first announced iOS 7, detailing a host of new technologies. Hidden among them, with the barest of mentions, was the iBeacon.

Think of an iBeacon as a tiny radio you can put almost anywhere. When your iPhone or other iOS device gets within range (a few dozen feet or so), it detects the iBeacon and can estimate how far away it is. Each iBeacon has its own identifier, too, so if your iPhone is within range of more than one iBeacon, it can tell them apart.

One company that is hard at work making their own brand of iBeacon sensor is estimote. From their web site:

Simply stick our tiny sensors in any physical place — such as your retail store — and your app users will benefit from personalized micro-location based notifications and actions when they walk in to your venue or interact with your products.

Roximity is another company that makes iBeacons. From their website:

Manage your beacons and triggers from a simple yet powerful web based dashboard. View detailed analytics about your campaigns, in store foot traffic, busiest times of day, and much much more!

I think this technology has incredible potential.

  • Ellyn IsfeelingThelove

    Would there be a good use case for schools to use this? Beaming homework to a device or other info when entering a particular class (subject)?

    • gjgustav

      The devices can’t really beam anything except an id and a small amount of data (like a few bytes). The app has to be aware and act based on the presence of the beacon. But if you already have an app, it probably knows what class you belong to anyway, and download the homework then.

      A good use case is a museum guide app. The app already knows all the stuff about the pieces in the museum, but can automatically look it up and play the audio, show pics, etc. when it detects it is near the beacon for that piece.

      • Michael Cohen

        Absolutely correct. But a great way to take roll—assuming a classroom of very well-heeled kids with iOS devices in their designer backpacks!! ☺

        Seriously, though, I can see various opportunities for using it in education.

        • gjgustav

          Yep – attendance is a good one. Scavenger hunts, field trips, etc.

    • Average Joe

      I don’t understand why people keep trying to force technology into schools when it doesn’t make sense.

      Would you require all students to have brand new iPhones? Or would you save the new-iPhone-owning students 3 seconds by trying to make this automatic, while everybody else has to (gasp) visit a webpage like some caveman?

      Yes, please, let’s make life even easier for the rich kids. The rest of us won’t mind.

      I’m not convinced there’s any good use case for this, but “schools” has got to be one of the worst.

      • Bazza
        1. Almost any phone can be used so long as it supports low-power bluetooth (which most do)!
        2. You’re absolutely right. Why would we make one of those really tedious tasks easier for teachers, so that they can focus on something more important like education? Clearly something you’re lacking in greatly!
        3. Don’t post just because you have something to say. Research, learn (education) and understand before you speak. This way you won’t appear to everyone else like a complete moron!
        4. Sorry for being mean, but I’m so sick of people JUST having an ill-informed opinion.
        • NoonianAtall

          Suggest you follow your own advice, especially #3.

          What schools really need is more simplicity, not more complexity. Adding more tech tends to result in it getting in the way and more things going wrong, slowing down the teacher and students. I speak from experience.

          Whiteboards and paper don’t crash or break or burn out or get misconfigured, and they don’t require upgrades and retraining. They just work, so people “can focus on something more important, like education.”

          By the way, don’t apologize unless you mean it.

          • Nicolas B.

            But whiteboards and paper cost much less than iPads. We have an industry to feed !

      • Ellyn IsfeelingThelove

        My kid is not rich and has an iPhone. She had a hand me down phone, sold that one for $190 baby sat and returned bottles to cover the new iPhone she got. Pushing homework to a device would be a great use case. Is a requirement? No but would it be helpful for her and the many friends in her class that have iPhones? Yup. My ADHD kid has be helped by reminders that technology allows her to have at her fingertips.

    • lucascott

      Not that kind of system. But a use case that might fit is the visually impaired. Imagine a web of iBeacons that could guide someone around a building,or a subway station, even perhaps the streets

      • Nicolas B.

        This a great idea !

        A few years ago, the RATP has started an experiment based on electronic “beacons”, to help blind travellers to get around in the Métro of Paris. The technology was – already- Bluetooth too.

  • James Hughes

    It’s great that many new technologies are being developed. The biggest concern I see with many of them is the drain on batteries. That is one area that really needs better development. Technology doesn’t mean much if it drains the device like crazy.

    • Arek Flinik

      iBeacons use the new Bluetooth Low Energy standard, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Estimote beacons should work for 2 years on a single coin battery.

      • James Hughes

        Death by a thousand cuts. So many apps and technologies and only so much power. One way or the other we need to get away from batteries in general. At least in the modern sense. It seems with every new development we drain a little bit more. It’s just an observation really. Solar and the like may be the answer, but I don’t and didn’t want to go off on a tangent.

        • Idon’t Know

          No. It’s not an issue.

          • James Hughes

            Okay. Could you be more terse?

  • LKM

    I’ve been using this on my Android phone. Android natively doesn’t support distance, only a boolean “I see/don’t see the Bluetooth sender”, but in Android’s settings app, you can set tons of actions based on this trigger. For example, I have one in my car that turns on some car-specific settings.

    • Idon’t Know

      Yeah that’s not the same thing.

      • LKM

        Maybe. I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m not entirely convinced. Apple’s solution technically can do more, but that’s just electronics. What about actual user-facing features? What features do iBeacons provide to users that I don’t already have on my phone?

        I guess I can come up with one answer: it makes it easier to find a keychain that has an iBeacon attached to it.

        But that’s something that I’ve been doing for a long time with Stick-N-Finds. They’re not natively supported by Android, so that’s a plus for Apple, but the features the Stick-N-Find app provides are effectively what Apple provides, no?

  • Why no one mentions that iOS device by itself is a iBeacon, too?

    • Nicolas B.

      Maybe because it isn’t.

  • As cool as this technology is I can’t help but think that the marketing world will get a hold of it and before long your device will bombarded with ads disguised as deals.

  • Sounds quite a bit like the Tile

  • So it’s basically NFC tags for iPhone. Not a new idea by any means.

    • Leon Hu

      Big difference, NFC’s maximum distance is 4 inches, these iBeacons could range up to 150 ft.

      • Concept is the same, though, at a high level.

        • Passerby

          NFC = near field i.e. close

          iBeacon = long range beacon i.e. far away.

          Concept is exactly the opposite, though, at a high level

        • bmleon2002

          BLE supports functionality that NFC does not (location pinpointing, data transfer over more than a few inches, etc.). Similarly, NFC supports functionality that BLE can’t (authentication in a specific location, support for card-present fees etc).

        • Idon’t Know

          No. It isn’t. NFC requires expensive terminals to be useful to retailers which is why NFC is dead. Even Google decoupled Google Wallet from it.

  • Joe Bob Briggs

    The heck with using it in stores. I’d use it to find my TV, cable, and Blu-ray remotes and car keys as well.

    • Nicolas B.

      Yep ! And to find my phone !

  • endergen

    There’s a Company out of Boston called Byte Light that’s been doing stuff in this space for a while. Real whip smart team. See:

  • Johnson

    Based on estimote’s webpage and videos, it looks like this is an attempt to use technology to replace an old device called a “sign”, but for no good reason.

    They don’t say how this is any better than a plain old blackboard A-frame sign. It’s more expensive, harder to update, requires batteries, and it only works if somebody has a new iPhone and is looking at it as they walk by.

    As a business owner, why would I buy this? It seems “cool” in the same way as “I rigged a Commodore 64 to control the Christmas lights on my house”. It’s a fun thing to show other geeks once, but it’s not exactly practical.

  • twerppoet

    “Simply stick our tiny sensors in any physical place — such as your retail store — and your app users will benefit from personalized micro-location based notifications and actions when they walk in to your venue or interact with your products.” – Esitmote

    Why does that make me think of walking around in SecondLife?

    • r00fus

      Or minority report? Just add a bit of iBeacon capable Google Glass…

  • Indoor mapping will get much better – places like malls, airports, etc. You phone can know when you’re going through security, direct you to your gate, food, etc.

  • tperfitt

    I did a writeup on iBeacon potential from a developer’s perspective:

    The exciting part of all this is the ability to do personal actions based on proximity.

    • Nicolas B.

      Like what personal actions ?