iBeacon was announced by Apple in 2013, as a part of iOS7, as a indoor-positioning system based on Bluetooth Low-Energy devices. The underlying intent was to reduce showrooming (shoppers going into stores to sample a product, but choosing to buy the product online instead of in-store), to increase foot traffic to stores, and to provide a compelling in-store experience via users’ smartphones. Working in conjunction with the Apple Store app, the beacon-based alerts provide shoppers inside 250+ Apple Stores with information on product deals, genius-bar appointments, and more.
Why yet another location-based service (LBS)? Yes, indeed, our smartphones have GPS-enabled maps, and while they suffice (somewhat) for getting to a building, they are not great for getting around/within a building. The accuracy of GPS degrades in urban areas. GPS provides a sense of location (a point and a radius around that point), but not proximity (“I’m close to parking lot 7”) or micro-location (within feet/meters, not miles). The significant distinction here is not just the notion of proximity/nearness, but also the fact that the range of the location can be as tight as a few metres.
What is a beacon? It’s a physical battery-powered device, often the size of a quarter, acting as a transmitter of information via an implementation of the Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) specification. The receiver (for this transmitter) is a smartphone app (think team/stadium/league app). It is possible to trigger actions on the smartphone app based on distance from the receiver, e.g., actions immediately next to the beacon, actions near the beacon, and actions far from the beacon. In the context of a stadium, it’s possible to install a beacon at a shelf of jerseys inside the stadium merchandise-store, and trigger messages in the team/stadium app as one walks past the store (“step into the store for our 10% discounts, only today”), as one walks into the store (“the jerseys are discounted an extra 15% for the next hour”), and then, as one stands right next to that shelf of jerseys (“the top-selling jersey of the day is #15–get yours now!”). In addition, every device since the iPhone 4S and iPad 3rd Gen is capable of being a BLE-enabled iBeacon receiver or transmitter, if configured properly.
Beacons and the Proximity-Aware Mobile User of the Future. Beacons present limitless opportunities to amplify the fan experience. Indeed, we are only limited by our imagination in the kinds of use-cases that are possible. It is possible to send custom alerts/notifications to fans within specific locations, it is possible to target content/experiences to locations, and to vary that experience by time of day. As with any technology, it is important to put the user first, and to understand what sorts of experiences would surprise, delight and reward the user, and to focus attention and energy on those experiences.
It is important to remember that beacon-based experiences are possible only when fans turn location services on and Bluetooth on their device. In addition, it is important for any kind of beacon-based experience to be completely opt-in for the fan. It is just as important that, if the fan chooses to opt out of the experience, all of the experience and the associated data must be deactivated immediately.