Beacon technology has been here for quite a while now. With 61% of consumers saying that they would prefer to receive personalized promotions on their phones, and 59% of people keeping their Bluetooth and Location enabled while shopping, Beacons were always great idea for proximity marketing. But it was a global pandemic that fast-tracked Beacon technology’s widespread adoption in mobile app development, especially for retail and marketing. In a time when social distancing is the norm, what better way is there to receive important notifications, promotional offers, restaurant menus and so much more, directly on your phone, without having to speak to anyone or touch anything!
So, let’s talk about beacon technology and the phenomenal opportunities it presents.
What Exactly is a Beacon?
A beacon is analogous to a lighthouse emitting light that sailors can see and understand their location. Only, equipped with a small radio transmitter that operates through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a beacon transmits radio signals that devices within its range can detect. Devices like smartphones connect with beacons using these signals and receive data which is then displayed in the form of a notification by an app.
While beacon devices have been mainstreamed for quite some time, understanding the compatibility of these devices—when there is a broad range of them, varying in size, battery performance, use case, and resisting capability to exogenous factors—with other smart systems, stands out as a priority to developers.
So, what is it that a beacon broadcasts? Well, that depends on the protocol a particular beacon uses. Protocols or standards are sets of rules governing the exchange of data. What protocol a beacon operates through entirely depends on its manufacturer. While you’re developing a beacon app, your choice of the protocol has to align with your targeted mobile platform.
Here are some of the leading beacon protocols and their unique features:
Introduced back in 2013 by Apple, iBeacon was the first beacon protocol in the market. Developed for retail and marketing apps, iBeacon has garnered enormous popularity of late. Fast, simple, and easy implementation, wide support, and reliable performance on iOS are what set iBeacon devices apart. An advertisement packet broadcasted by an iBeacon device comprises four pieces of data.
- UUID — A 16-byte identifier for the beacon group
- Major — A 2-byte unsigned number detecting a subset of beacons within a large group
- Minor— A 2-byte unsigned value identifying a unique beacon
- Measured Power—Indicating the signal strength 1 meter from the transmitter
Among these, the UUID, a string of 24 numbers, facilitates communication with a mobile app.
AltBeacon was introduced in 2014 by the Radius Network consortium. An open-source alternative to iBeacon, it features almost the same functionality, but isn’t bound to any specific mobile platform.
While iBeacon can utilize 20 of 27 bytes of user data, AltBeacon, with its broader transmission capabilities, can use 25 of 28 bytes, broadcasting and delivering more data per message than iBeacon. As it can carry more data, AltBeacon has a wider range of applications. This standard also promises high flexibility due to its customisable source code.
- MFG ID – 2-byte length of the type and data portion of the manufacture specific data
- BEACON CODE – 2-byte promotional package code
- BEACON ID – 20-byte value uniquely identifying the beacon
- MFG RSVD – 1-byte reserved for use by the manufacturer to implement special features
In 2015, Google released its take on beacon technology, Eddystone. This open beacon protocol follows the same message format of ‘Bluetooth Low Energy’, making it extremely easy to work with. Equipped with the same features as its two counterparts, Eddystone promises bigger opportunities and more flexibility, removing all the limitations of iBeacon and AltBeacon.
Beacons that use Eddystone protocol are capable of transmitting three different types of data packets, which work for both iOS and Android.
- UID— A 16-byte string of characters identifying the individual beacon (10-byte namespaceID and 6-byte instanceID)
- URL— A shortened website link (18 bytes) is directly transmitted to the device, which can be opened by the user
- TLM—Telemetry information about the beacon itself like the beacon’s battery voltage, counts of broadcasted packets, and beacon’s temperature
Pillars of Developing Beacon Technology Enabled Mobile Apps
It is already established that beacon technology and mobile apps go hand-in-hand. However, to make this happen, mobile app developers at the forefront of leveraging beacon technology must consider certain parameters during their app development process, that lead to successful app launch.
Since reaching the consumers in close proximity is the foundation of beacon technology, focusing on user demographics while designing the app’s features is critical. Integrating relevant data on users’ behaviour and preferences into the app features—starting from the number or frequency of the user’s visits to a particular store to the appropriate radius to find users and reach them—will ensure successful development of beacon-based mobile apps.
Ensuring Control of Users:
For a beacon to interface seamlessly with user’s devices and the associated apps, a few key parameters need to be met. To ensure security of data and control over their device, it’s on the user to enable GPS and provide location permissions to the app. The user must also turn on the device’s Bluetooth and have it properly configured.
Integrating the Hardware:
Beacon integrated apps need to take into account the hardware capabilities of the beacons. Proper signal transmission from beacons is influenced by factors like signal strength, and the distance to the user’s device. While the signal strength of a beacon depends entirely on manufacturing quality and efficiency, the distance factor is handled by classifying it as either ‘immediate’, ‘near’, or ‘far’. Beacon apps must feature power measuring capabilities to gauge proximity and adjust itself accordingly.
Deploying App Servers:
Beacon apps require various kinds of data to operate. To start with, your app must feature an effective business logic script to pull all the necessary data from the business’s database. Next, for the app to identify beacons in the user’s proximity, it needs metadata of the shop’s floor plan. The app intuitively identifies the right beacon in the area, closest to the user’s device, by filtering out other beacons which it discovered. Using the beacon’s unique ID received from the beacon, which are already registered in the app server, the app queries the server for data related to it. The data from the server ultimately enables the app to display the correct notification to the user. Beacon app servers must thus facilitate seamless exchange of this information.
Like it or not, beacons are the future of human interaction with the physical world. You can capitalize on it now, or risk being left behind.
If you’re looking to explore the possibilities of Beacon technology for your app development project, as a leading software development company, we at Josh Software can lend you a hand in navigating the rapidly-evolving landscape of this domain.
Develop future-proof beacon integrated apps with Josh Software.
Get in touch to explore further.