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What Is Beacon Technology And How To Use It In Your App


Maryna Cherednychenko - April 19, 2021 - 0 comments

Various technologies, devices, and gadgets surround the man of today. It is no longer a surprise to launch the vacuum cleaner from the phone, get directions to an unfamiliar place, or receive a promo offer from a store we pass by. Behind all this are various technologies such as Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth. With their help, you can implement many features to add value to your app and delight users. In this article, we will talk about one such technology – a beacon BLE. We will consider what it is and how you can use it in your app.

What Is Beacon Technology?

It is enough to recall a lighthouse to understand how the Beacon technology works. In both cases, the devices act as sources that generate signals. The lighthouse sheds light, and the beacon transmits radio waves. Thus, a beacon is a small radio transmitter that broadcasts data over short distances via Bluetooth. 

Each beacon is assigned a unique identifier which consists of letters and numbers. The beacon ID is transmitted several times a second. Receivers with enabled Bluetooth receive this signal, and the software installed on the receiver displays the content associated with a particular ID. The receiver is usually a phone, and the software is a mobile app.

You might be wondering how the app knows what content to show. Here is how it works:

  1. the app contacts the server
  2. the app finds the broadcasting beacon’s ID 
  3. next, it reads the ID-related content
  4. finally, it shows the relevant information to the user

This implies the beacon app developers must register their beacons on the server the app communicates with. In other words, they need to enter the corresponding IDs into the app database. Question: where to get beacons? Answer: either develop yourself (for this, you need to buy the appropriate chips) or buy ready-made devices.

 

How beacon technology works

Main Beacon Protocols

Beacons transmit data through different protocols – a set of rules that defines data exchange between various programs. When we talk about protocols, it is important not to confuse them with physical devices. One device, that is, one beacon, can send data through different protocols – this depends on the manufacturer. For the beacon app developer, it is the protocol that matters. Its choice is usually determined by the mobile platform – iOS or Android. Let’s take a closer look at the main beacon standards and find out how they differ.

iBeacon

iBeacon was the first standard introduced by Apple in 2013. Its primary purpose was retail and marketing apps as well as local indoor positioning. The iBeacon protocol broadcasts one type of advertisement packet, which consists of:

  • UUID – 16-byte unique identifier for the beacon group;
  • Major – 2-byte unsigned value;
  • Minor – 2-byte unsigned value;
  • Measured Power – signal level value at 1m from the transmitter.

iBeacon drawbacks:

  • lack of native support on Android
  • only one type of advertisement packet

 

iBeacon frame

AltBeacon

AltBeacon is another beacon standard presented by the RadiusNetwork consortium. It is an open-source protocol not tied to any specific platform. AltBeacon has almost the same functionality as iBeacon but with broader transmission capabilities that send a little more information. AltBeacon advertisement packet consists of:

  • MFG ID – 2-byte device manufacturer ID;
  • LIGHTHOUSE CODE – 2-byte promotional package code;
  • BEACON ID – 20-byte unique device identifier;
  • MFG RSVD – 1-byte special reserved field (mainly used for assigned Bluetooth numbers).

AltBeacon drawbacks:

  • the same as of iBeacon ones, because this is essentially its open-source analog

 

AltBeacon frame

AltBeacon frame

Eddystone

Eddystone is a beacon standard introduced by Google. It defines BLE messages’ format and repeats all the features of two previous protocols but with bigger opportunities. The purpose of Eddystone is to give more flexibility and remove the limitations of iBeacon and AltBeacon. Unlike them, it can send three types of packets:

  • UID – a 16-byte device identifier that consists of a 10-byte namespaceID and a 6-byte instanceID.
  • URL – transmits URL using compressed encoding format. A URL of any length can be shortened using the Google URL Shortener to fit the 18-byte advertisement packet. Once decoded, the URL can be used by any client with Internet access. For example, if the beacon broadcasts the URL: https://goo.gl/Aq18zF, any user who received this package through the app can visit that URL (https://goo.gl/Aq18zF).
  • TLM – telemetry sends data types such as battery voltage, device temperature, and the number of packets sent.

Eddystone drawbacks:

  • limited support on iOS
  • Bluetooth LE support starting from Android v. 4.3

 

Eddystone frame

How To Develop Beacon App?

To create a beacon app, you need to either purchase beacons or use someone else’s. The choice depends on your app’s nature. Let’s take a closer look at each case.

1.Purchase and install your own beacons

Imagine you are a large retailer looking to reach more customers with an eCommerce app. For a better UX, you install beacons in your offline stores. When a user walks past these stores, they receive alerts about promotions and personal discounts. It is very convenient because the notification arrives at the right time and in the right place. The user is two steps away from an attractive offer, so it doesn’t cost them anything to enter the store and find out more.

2.Use third-party beacons

Say you want to create an app to catch the beacons’ signal and invite users to follow the link received in the notification. This option is only possible with the Eddystones and their URL packages. The use case is suitable for travel apps: when the user walks past an architecture object, they can learn more about it by clicking the link in a pop-up message. As the software owner, you do not need to spend money buying and installing beacons but code the app to catch Eddystone’s URL packet. In this case, the user’s phone receives not a beacon ID but a direct message with a link.

Beacon Technology Use Cases

Beacons bring benefits to diverse business areas: tourism, logistics, sports events, medical services, etc. However, its greatest potential is in retail. According to the Google survey, 82% of smartphone users use their gadgets while in a store to make purchasing decisions. And here, the beacons are second to none. Anyhow, here are some use cases for your inspiration:

Promo offers. You can send alerts about in-store offers when users walk not far from your shop. Timely messages serve well because they left fewer chances to postpone the purchase. So, you can count on spur-of-the-moment decisions and fast sales.

Territory/building access. You can use this idea for your corporate app to alert employees or customers if they enter a restricted area. Or vice versa, you can notify the user about a free entry or place. For example, tell the driver about a free parking space.

Personal guide. When a person enters a large-scale event, such as a football match or a concert, it can be difficult for them to navigate. With the help of beacons, you can tell how to get the reserved seat, cashier desk, or drinks shop.

Contact history. Beacons have come in handy during the Covid19 pandemic and helped Google and Apple create a joint project. Their app notifies the user of contact with an infected person. When two users meet, their phones exchange anonymous identifier beacons (which change frequently). If the infected user enters Covid19 test results in an app from a public health authority, all contact persons receive a corresponding alert.

Advanced analytics. You can link beacon data with Google Ads account and see how online marketing efforts are paid off offline. This becomes possible thanks to information about who clicked the online ad and then visited the offline shop. If you own an offline store and have a Google Ads account, you probably have access to free beacons that Google was distributing when it first launched its Project Beacon.

Enhance UX With Beacon Technology

While beacon technology is not another “big thing” in the tech world, it gives a good chance to grow customer loyalty and engage clients. Beacons are of particular value for those who run business both offline and online. They strengthen your marketing strategy and diversify the user experience with handy features and useful tips. If you need more information about beacon app development, please contact our managers. They will provide you with in-depth information based on your project specifics.

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