iBeacon, an extension of the iOS Location Based Services, is an Apple technology standard that allows mobile apps to “listen” to communication from beacons and respond accordingly.
Beacons are small pieces of hardware that can be fixed anywhere and the communication between the beacon and the smartphone happens via BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), a low cost, low energy technology for communication over short distances.
Applications of the iBeacon technology are numerous, the most obvious one being retail.
Imagine you are in a store and are contemplating buying a new couch. You walk around the couch section, pondering the price and the choices and a notification pops up with a 25% off offer. That is too good to resist and you are sold. The iBeacon did what it was meant to do and you are a happy customer.
How about when you have just had enough of walking around the furniture store and are sitting down on one of the couches to give your tired feet a rest and your app pops up with the 25% offer? You would find that intrusive and also off-putting at some level.
The iBeacon technology is a double edged sword that needs to be used prudently. If the customer is not looking to buy something then the beacon notifications can seem annoying, if not downright pushy.
Brands need to engage their customers judiciously, placing more emphasis on quality than quantity of the messaging. They need to pepper their messages with targeted information, helpful tips and relevant offers. They also need to remember that ultimately users have the power to shut them off with a few taps.
iBeacons have other practical uses as well – a big one being in the area of indoor mapping. Beacons in airports, hospitals and sports arenas can prove very helpful in navigating these big locations with turn by turn directions, and provide other helpful information along the way – for example, an airport app that gives you directions so you can make it to your gate while also letting you know the status of your flight and maybe suggesting a place where you can grab a bite.
All this convenience comes with the shadow of privacy issues. These issues are offset somewhat by the fact that users have to opt in to be targeted but that still does not mean that users are going to get what they expected. The messaging may seem too “in your face”, leaving the brand with a disgruntled user. Or worse, users who feel they are being spied upon as their every move seem to be tracked and used by the brand.
But iBeacons have arrived in a big way and are here to stay.
What other interesting uses of iBeacons have you come across? Share them with us!
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