It’s like something out of a movie:

You walk into your favorite store and are greeted, alerted to the latest deals, and presented with a personalized coupon – all from your phone.

This is just one of the possible avenues through which beacon technology can alter how we interact with the world around us.

beacon lighthouse

With the release of iOS 7, Apple introduced a new technology, branded as iBeacon, with the potential to revolutionize how we relate to the world around us. Beacon technology uses Bluetooth 4.0, or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), to facilitate device interaction. Beacons are small electronic devices which transmit a one-way message to nearby smartphones and iDevices, much like how lighthouses signal approaching ships. If the receiving device has opted in, the related application will open and display a proximity based message or service when the device is in range.

In order for an iOS 7 device to respond to beacon transmissions, Bluetooth must be turned on and the corresponding app must be installed. If either of these conditions are missing, the beacon transmissions will be ignored. This way users have control over when and where they receive messages – motivating participating companies to ensure that their services are not perceived as spam. While many Android phones are capable of receiving BLE transmissions, they are not programmed like iOS 7 devices to actively search for these transmissions and to open relevant applications when triggered. If Android users wish to interact with beacons, they must already have the related app open on their phone so that the transmission can be received.

estimote beacon

Estimote Beacon

The location specific messaging that beacon technology offers has a wide array of possible applications, particularly in retail, museums, schools, homes, and businesses. Many possible use cases are being beta tested by select companies. One innovative application that is currently being tested is Virgin Atlantic’s use of Estimote beacons in London’s Heathrow airport, triggering phones to display boarding information automatically as customers approach the terminal.

The placement of a single beacon can allow your phone to identify the room you are in. However, multiple beacons in the same room can allow for the triangulation of the device’s specific location, within a few inches. This functions in a similar way to how GPS works, but on a micro level, and it is designed specifically for indoor areas which GPS satellites are incapable of accessing. This micro location service can reinvent the way we navigate malls, museums, sports arenas, and other large indoor facilities. Major League Baseball has been using beacons at twenty stadiums this year to provide users with precise directions to their seats, as well as to send notifications and offers.

The two primary concerns about beacon technology are security and user buy in. Apple has tried to relieve security concerns by emphasizing that the beacon-device interaction is one-way. Beacons merely emit a signal, which your phone receives and acts upon without relaying information back to your surroundings. This means that we are entrusting individual apps with our information, which should n0t be altogether new. As the implementation of beacon technology picks up, we should have a better understanding of any additional security risks it may present.

At these early stages of implementation, the concern of user buy in has significantly influenced the rate of adoption. Because some of the more compelling use cases from a marketing perspective, such as alerts to sales and individualized coupons, have the potential to be interpreted as spam by the user (which could in turn cause them to opt out of the service), businesses must proceed with a degree of caution when determining the initial ways in which beacons will be implemented.

For this technology to become a widespread success, users must believe that it provides them with unique benefits and that it is not just another gimmick trying to make a sale. It is up to the creative applications of the early adopters to convince them of this reality.

If you have an innovative idea for how you can use this growing technology to jump start your business, give RTS Labs a call today. We would love to hear about all of your beacon, and any other software, development needs.