Top iBeacons myths, possibilities, analytics and issues

Mar 11, 2014

In this post, we’re going to talk about some of the myths around beacons, explore some of the possibilities, talk about analytics and look at some of the issues with beacons.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is at the core of beacons. Once configured and installed, beacons can be left to broadcast for up to two years on a single coin battery. All of the clever activity happens in the app, and subsequently the backend.

Beacons Myth Busting

  1. Beacons send content to a device. 

Wrong. Beacons simply broadcast a signal, that signal is then interpreted by a mobile device, and if it matches up with an app on the users device; triggers an action in the app. If a device has an app installed, designed to pick up the specific signal ID, a set action will be triggered. The action may be to send a notification, navigate to a specific section of an app, or to just sit in the background and take no action at all.

The beauty of this is that it can work offline (without cellular or Wi-Fi), just triggering the right action in-app. This will be very useful for areas where Wi-Fi or cellular isn’t available. Alternatively; it can also work with back-end content stored in the cloud when the device is connected. The end goal of beacons is to provide contextually relevant information and experiences to the end user, in return for business intelligence.

  1. iBeacons are for iOS only.

Not strictly true. iBeacons is Apple’s trademark that hardware manufacturers can certify to Apple’s specification, allowing the manufacturer to use the term ‘iBeacon.’ The actual technology being used here is called Bluetooth Smart. This means that beacons can work with apps on any Bluetooth 4.0 device that includes support for BLE in the OS (Apple is first to the market here.)

  1. Beacons can be used for triangulation.

False. Devices can only derive the proximity from the BLE signal being emitted from a beacon. There isn’t currently a way to properly use beacons for triangulation. Beacons know whether a user is far, immediate or near. They don’t know the exact distance.

When it comes to indoor location, beacons will help with navigation by understanding which beacons are nearby to determine where a user is (e.g. in the entrance lobby or in aisle 12, section five of the depot.) It’s for this reason that triangulation isn’t really needed.

  1. Beacons will drain your battery.

False. Bluetooth isn’t the battery hog that it used to be, the clue is in the name (Bluetooth Low Energy).

  1. iBeacons can prompt an app to be downloaded.

False. Beacons can’t trigger apps to download. It won’t be possible for Amazon to get users to open their app when people walk into a retailer’s store (although Amazon could provisionally utilise outdoor adverts near to retail stores to encourage users to open it, if they wanted to.) Apps won’t be able to download automatically when a user gets near to a beacon. Beacons can only work with the apps they are designed to work with. User security and safety has been considered here!

The Possibilities


Often, when creating effective mobile apps, companies will look at the touch points where the target end user can benefit from an app. This will help

to define the functionality of apps by understanding the user journey.

Here’s how to think of beacons; they are the real world triggers of the mobile touch points. By placing beacons in the right location, companies can help users to access contextually relevant content based on the end users proximity.

There are a number of ways this could be done, for the sake of simplicity we’ll take the example of a beacon placed on the door of a museum.

Proximity design: Beacons have three tiers of proximity – far, near and immediate. A different action can be set within the app for each of these tiers. This creates a new concept for app design, based around proximity:

  • Far region: This region covers the 10-30m surrounding the door (configurable.) By moving into this area, the app can trigger a silent notification (so that the user isn’t alerted to it, but would see it if they went to unlock their device.) The app would check the cloud based CMS for more up-to-date information, and download it if available. If the user looked at their device, saw the notification and opened the app they would have up to date information and be able to find out what is on at that precise time. If the user were to leave this field, the silent notification would disappear from their device and they could carry on with their day. If they were to move closer to the beacon though…

  • Near region: In this region 1-10m (configurable), if the user hadn’t looked at their device and stayed in this area for 30 seconds or more, the app can send an active (buzz or sound) notification to nudge the user to look at their device. If they opened the app, it might come up with information about prices for the day. If the user was signed into the app, it might bring up the exhibitions that the user would be most likely interested in.

  • Immediate region: Under 1m (configurable), the app would know that the user has entered the museum and, for users not signed in, show on a map where to go for tickets and bring up times of tours. For users who are signed in, the app could bring up their membership card automatically. It’s within this region that payments through beacons also become a possibility. If the user had an online account and a ‘pay-per-visit’ set up, by entering the immediate region, a payment could be authorised to make the experience more seamless.

Once in the museum, as the user enters an exhibition room, beacons placed behind exhibits can provide an audio or visual guide based on the users language preferences. As they move from one exhibit to another, the app would be able to contextually change the content to match the physical objects closest to it. Better still, with headphones the device could be locked and in a pocket allowing the user to enjoy the experience without technology getting in the way.

Though this is a simple example, it goes to demonstrate the vast number of ways that beacons can be used to improve the user experience by thinking about the relevant touch points. If you have created an app, what are the touch points at which you’d want people to engage? Which part of the app would you want the user to be in at that specific point? If you start answering these questions, you can start to see the potential for beacons.

Full Circle Analytics


When users are signed in, beacons complete the circle between online behaviour and real world activity. In the case of the museum example, this would take the form of understanding what the user has been interested in online and what they spend the most time looking at in real life. This can be used to help make recommendations about exhibits that might be of interest, how to more effectively design the exhibition layout or items in the gift shop that might be most relevant.

Alternatively, if they aren’t signed in the museum isn’t aware of who the user is. What they can do however is use cloud based analytics to help make recommendations when the user enters the gift shop. This would be anonymous information that would only last for the visit to the exhibition, but with the aim of providing an enhanced experience and being able to think of value add to the retail experience.

The options are endless and will be most likely dictated by the offering of the museum and what it is aiming to achieve. These include a richer end user experience, creating cross selling opportunities or providing a new learning experience with relevant quizzes served based on activity.  Is it conceivable that a user who spends a long time at an exhibit or returns many times to the same exhibit is interested in it and is open to receiving further information or retail options? If they get value out of it, yes.

Whilst there will be obvious concerns about user privacy, it’s important to state that it this isn’t about tracking the user’s location or activity, but designing an intelligent back-end that delivers the right content, at the right time and can analyse the information to provide a better overall experience.

As previously alluded to cross selling and upselling opportunities present themselves to arguably, customers who want them.  An opportunity that has rarely been talked about is using this new digital, physical space channel to provide third party sponsorship opportunities.

An Enterprise Approach


We like to pride ourselves at Mubaloo for ‘getting’ apps in enterprise. It’s why we think beacons have such a huge potential for business use cases. A major one is the maintenance and auditing of assets.  Beacons add a level of simplicity, accuracy and clarification to further improve the work process that mobile technology can already provide. By adding beacons to existing assets, apps can be modified or designed to bring up relevant content to make the maintenance of assets even easier.

Where some companies might be using GPS or GIS tools to currently do this, beacons open up the possibilities for micro location enhancements. Better still, for equipment stored out of the reach of cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity, beacons make it easier and safer to get to the right content thanks to native offline storage.

The metrics provide insight into processes that otherwise would be difficult and time consuming to collect.  An example of how this might be applied is thinking about why it may take 5 minutes to carry out an inspection of one area vs. 30 seconds in another. What is happening that takes so long in comparison?  Could it be possible that some areas are visited more than others and some are not visited at all?  What does this mean to the process, the business, and the bottom line?  Arguably, every use case can benefit from this kind of information.  Of course some of it will be more relevant to business in certain sectors but there is clearly potential.

Policies, health and safety documents, CAD data, service manuals and records can be served on the app triggered by beacons in set locations.  This could help to further reduce paperwork and errors if deployed and designed with the end user in mind.

Issues with Beacons?

Beacons have the potential to be hugely beneficial to both end users and businesses for creating new opportunities for contextual app experiences based on proximity design. They provide insight and additional analytics that, when applied to real-world environments, can lead a vast number of benefits.

  1. The user needs to have the app installed. Without this, the beacon can’t do anything.

  2. The user needs to have Bluetooth turned on. This is less of an issue now with the number of people who have wearables, Bluetooth speakers etc. Bluetooth is among the easiest things to turn on, so for areas where Beacons have been deployed, a polite sign encouraging users to turn Bluetooth on for an enhanced experience can solve that.

This is only scratching the surface of beacons. Contact us to talk more about this exciting technology!

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