Beacons are a low-cost piece of hardware — small enough to attach to a wall or countertop — that utilise battery-friendly low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet. The devices have huge implications for the way businesses and organisations can now interact with consumers via their mobile devices.
Because of this, lots of different tech companies want in on the market.
A recent report from BI Intelligence unpacks what beacons are, how they work, and which companies have already begun pushing into the technology.
Apple is way out front. Every Apple device running iOS7 is already capable of being an iBeacon receiver or transmitter. That equates to roughly 200 million active iPhones and iPads that can serve as nodes in any iBeacon system.
Here are a few of the others:
- PayPal has already led the charge in the use of beacons for offline mobile payments with their proprietary beacon technology, PayPal Beacon. PayPal already boasts a robust network of more than 17 million active monthly users of its app. These are potential PayPal Beacon users.
- Qualcomm recently announced the launch of its own beacon hardware, the Gimbal Beacon. Gimbal will function similar to the way iBeacon and many other beacons can, primarily by providing the ability to recognise and connect with an active device within its proximity.
- And there are a number of smaller startup firms that have been working to launch beacon technology. Some of the largest include Swirl, Estimote and GPShopper. They offer the devices, but also beacon system management and consulting services.
One inherent disadvantage that Apple’s iBeacon has against these companies is that Apple devices and iBeacon technology are designed to work primarily with Apple’s iOS 7 software, not Android or others.
Many of the other beacon manufacturers, including PayPal and Qualcomm, have developed technology that moves across iOS and Android platforms with room to expand to other mobile platforms as well.
In full, the report from BI Intelligence explains what beacons are, how they work, and what industries will lead in implementing beacons. We also take a look at the barriers in the way of widespread adoption.
Here are some of BI Intelligence’s findings:
- In-store retail and offline payments are in the first wave of beacon applications. Retail outlets are adopting beacons to provide customers with product information, flash sales or deals, and to speed up the checkout process with a completely contactless payments system.
- Consumers seem receptive to beacons as a way to enhance their in-store shopping experience. Half of American adults already utilise their mobile devices in stores. Consumers could also use them to inexpensively automate their homes. For example, beacons could turn on lights in a room as soon as someone with a smartphone has entered them, or open doors or window shades.
- But there’s a barrier to wide adoption of beacon technology: several layers of permissions. Customers have to turn on Bluetooth, accept location services on the relevant app and opt-in to receive in-store or indoor notifications.
- The applications go beyond retail: We expect beacons to be deployed all over airports and ground transit hubs so that notifications on departures, delays, and gate and platform assignments can be delivered instantly to passenger phones.