iBeacons and contextual app design

Mar 31, 2014

One of the best things about Google Maps is that it knows where you are and can show you places of interest nearby. One of the benefits of using well designed, data driven apps is to get contextual information, relevant to the individual user. In the majority of cases though, this still requires quite a large amount of input from the user.

The user has to remember that they have the app installed, where it is on their device and then navigate to the right page to get what they want. In the advent of iBeacons, this seems like a totally antiquated way to navigate an app.

With iBeacons, the app not only knows the locations the user is likely to use the app, but also navigates to the right content based on where the user is. By delivering contextual app design, iBeacons have the ability to completely changing how people interact with their devices.


Apple has a history of putting the user at the centre of their decisions. They have a focus on making ‘insanely great products’ that combines hardware and software which, over the years, has changed the way we think about technology. They banished beige boxes from desks and created the smartphone revolution through design, engineering and software.

iBeacons is truly an Apple experience for bringing about the next stage of navigation around our devices. Too often, mobile can get in the way of people’s real life experience. As apps provide us with the information we want, we can all be guilty of spending too much time staring at our screens rather than interacting with the world.

As iBeacons trigger actions in apps, the user doesn’t have to spend time navigating through multiple folders or apps to find what they need. iBeacons mean that, when the user gets their phone out of their pocket, the app presents itself to them. They don’t need to worry about navigating through different pages to find what they want because they know that the phone will do it for them. They can get to what they want, when they want it.

Currently, this would be done by GPS. This not only sucks battery life by constantly monitoring location and requiring the screen to be on for longer, but also means that information comes up before the user needs it. Ultimately, the user experience is what defines usage. It’s one of the hardest elements to get right, and is one of the top reasons that apps will fail.

iBeacons open up the opportunity to approach app design in a new way. When apps are designed with iBeacons in mind, they can be created to be contextual to their surroundings. A menu or button may only be relevant in a certain location. This means that apps can be designed to be as clean as possible and only display what the user needs, at the time they need it.

An example of this might be for a warehouse. Employees could be faced with a myriad of menus that take time to navigate, slowing down their efficiency. With beacons placed in isles, the app can contextually change the menus to be relevant to the inventory being stored. It can bring up the relevant forms or information that the worker needs at that moment in time.

One of the advantages of iBeacons within buildings is that the company can help to control the experience. Ensuring that their app is the one the user naturally goes to. Like most things, there will be some who abuse the technology and mindlessly spam customers. As we’ve touched on before, those who do this will end up damaging their own brand more than they will the user. It could also impact on whether users turn Bluetooth on or not.

In the early days of deploying iBeacons, it will be key to testing and building in intelligence that delivers the ultimate end user experience. This may require slowly introducing the functionality to customers to aid the adoption of beacons, afterall, if an app suddenly changed screens with no user input, it may be slightly disconcerting!

Companies will need to ask themselves what their end goal is. In all cases, the answer with beacons should be to provide the enhanced user experience and deliver the right information. The payoff for doing so will result in better business intelligence surrounding real world actions. Core to this will be thinking about how to create a contextual design based on delivering the right information, at the right time.

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