Beacons and Bluetooth Low Energy
Since Apple introduced iBeacon as the WWDC conference as part of IOS7 it'd be fair to say that it may be slowly passing under the radar, but for me as a developer I feel this will be one of the most exciting products of recent years. Already there are a few front runners producing the hardware to utilise this technology and the case studies they have developed are very clear and focused in how they will help the end user.
To get up to speed iBeacon is the Apple brand for their adoption of the technology known as Bluetooth Low Energy. The beauty of this is unlike NFC technology which Apple have so far refused to implement - is that it will be available across platform and will become available in many smartphones produced since 2013, Bluetooth Low Energy is featured in iOS 7 and Android 4.3. Some are even doting beacon as the killer of NFC and the adoption by Apple is something many consider a strong feature to hold.
So What is Bluetooth Low Energy?
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a technology designed as a way of wirelessly transferring data between devices. Its beauty lies in its ability to only support low data rates, the upside is it only consumes low levels of energy allowing device batteries to last for longer, with some companies already citing their devices of running upwards of 12-24 months non-stop without a battery change!
Where Will We See Beacon Technology Used?
Many current examples have shown the use of the technology in the retail sector with PayPal also introducing PayPal Beacon as a service for making payments through the technology.
On a more personal level, one of the many issues I have faced with GPS tracking is indoor accuracy as GPS signals have trouble penetrating the steel structure of a building. With the micro-location geofencing of iBeacons the technology will hope to solve these problems with indoor mapping. Users will be able to connect to a nearby beacon to determine their GPS location.
Some Toys to Play With
Like any developer I'm always keen to play with new technology and there a couple of companies to note as making waves in the sector. One of these companies is Estimote, described in their own words as "a technology start-up building a sensor-based analytics and engagement platform." For a market perspective they are very much focussed on a primary area of brick and mortar retail stores. But it will be very interesting to see who adopts this technology and how. Kontakt are another company developing their products to make use of this new technology. Unlike Estimote they appear to looking at a wider audience of markets, including indoor navigation, outdoor navigation, retail, medical, museums and more. They are also developing a platform on which applications can be built - making it easier for the non-technical amongst us to embrace and make sure of the beacon technology.
So, whilst I await my beacon dev kit to arrive I am very excited to see the possibilities it will bring. I see 2014 as a year in which Beacon technology will make a mark and from a personal perspective something I am keen to play with and see what can be achieved. I believe we will see many interesting projects created at personal and more commercial levels across sectors. On a personal level I feel the mobile marketplace has become slowly stagnant, there are only so many games and utility apps we can enjoy, it is clearly apparent that the bridge of hardware and software is growing and will excite developers and consumers alike.
As with any new technology there are far more detailed views and topics of conversation than I could ever cover. From a personal perspective here are a few articles worth reading...