iBeacon – What Is This Technology About And How It Can Be Used

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Partner Post - Erminesoft Mobile App Development Company

Posted: July 4, 2016


Max Hornostaiev, CTO of Erminesoft.com. Being a CTO, I always try to hold on to memories of my first programming experience at school and university, the devotion and passion for learning new things, exploring new technologies and engaging in constant self-development.  Now, having more than 10 years of experience in IT field, I am sure the key for growth is knowledge sharing. I lead Erminesoft tech team with this in mind, giving advice, teaching as well as sharing useful information at Erminesoft blog. I will be happy to connect at LinkedIn and Twitter.

iBeacon is a new technology, which is based on Bluetooth Low Energy. Starting 2013 iBeacon is built into the Apple iOS 7. The first pilot project was launched at the Apple stores in December 2013.

Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a radio frequency transmission standard developed by the Bluetooth SIG community. This standard’s features are aimed to fill the needs of modern wireless applications, such as ultra-low power consumption, short connection establishing time, reliability and safety. BLE consumes from 10 to 20 times less power (and 1000 times less than Wi-Fi, by the way), and can transmit data with 50 times higher data rate as compared to classical Bluetooth. The technology of adaptive frequency hopping used in the BLE enables devices to change the operating frequency in a blink of an eye. Not only it reduces the impact of interference, but also allows to decrease or completely avoid overflows in the operating frequencies. Furthermore, BLE technology is designed to employ a plurality of security mechanisms: authentication, authorization, encryption and algorithms to prevent data interception.

So what is iBeacon like?

As a company, deeply engaged in iOS development services, we, among the first, were able to test iBeacon, examined it, conducted researches and successfully completed several interesting projects based on it.

The iBeacon technology is used as a system of in-door positioning, which allows various companies to send advertisements to smartphones of potential (or actual) customers that come close to their points of presence. Preconfigured iBeacon system allows sending a variety of push-notifications to customers when they are close to respective dedicated iBeacons. Location of individual devices (responding to iBeacon requests) can be calculated using trilateration.

In fact, iBeacons are separate devices that continually broadcast out special UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) messages with the use of BLE. UUID contains information about the service provider, the group ID (Beacon Group ID) own identifier (Beacon ID), and the signal ratio (Proximity level).

Every iBeacon transmitter has its coverage (cell). Usually, the beacons are organized in groups to completely cover the placement area with overlapping cells Thus, the receiver’s position can be calculated based on the locations of emitters.

The main difference between iBeacon and basic BLE beacons is that iBeacon is one of the ecosystems constituting Apple’s metasystem. This includes hardware and software, as well as the uniform interfaces to align and couple with the rest of the company’s products. For example, in combination with the Apple Watch and Beecon+ application, it is possible to control the Internet-of-Things nodes manually or automatically based on location, proximity, temperature, weather and more.

Taptoweb iBeacon


Source: Wikimedia

iBeacon usage

Let us review some cases where developments and implementation of the iBeacon technology could be advantageous:

Museums and exhibitions. And also zoos, water parks, art galleries and other places where one must behold the exposition. iBeacon can turn this process into a pleasure, greatly simplifying the guides’ tasks or even completely replacing them in the future.

Hospitals and clinics. Nearing the specialist’s office one can get a short resume on said doctor, find out the opening hours, available timeslots for reservation, the approximate waiting time and other details. Navigating through the hospital building would also be very useful. Similarly to simplify the work of medical personnel, the iBeacon system can track the location of the patient, provide links to their patient history, medical card, a list of appointments and prescribed medications.

Hotels and resorts. It seems like the iBeacon technology is specially designed for such places. It is impossible not to note the prospects of check-ins and check-outs convenience with the use of this technology, the ability to select the points of interest for leisure and excursions, to access virtual concierges, available everywhere.

Visually impaired people. iOS is equipped with features that help the visually impaired to communicate with their devices, such as text-to-speech, voice recognition and voice commands, built into Siri, support for braille displays over the Bluetooth. iBeacon can participate in the process of helping the visually impaired to navigate the terrains, providing detailed information on the current location and surrounding area.

Erminesoft’s programmers believe that now the technology is still in the testing phase, but some cases of successful implementations exist already.

For example, several airports around the world use iBeacon systems for locative purposes, while as an experiment, McDonald’s used the iBeacons to notify their visitors about the daily offers – selling McChickens and McNuggets at a special price. During the campaign these products sold better than usual by approximately 8% and 7.5%.

What kinds of tools does one need to start experimenting with iBeacon development?

To develop applications using IBeacon, you need an IDE able to work with native languages (Swift or Objective-C). Our developers use Xcode. In addition, you will need a set of native SDKs (depends on what specific features should your app execute) and iBeacon framework, Estimote SDK or Gimbal SDK, implementing the functionality of the technology. Furthermore, for testing purposes, one or more iBeacon devices are needed, or a laptop equipped with a Bluetooth 4.0 radio module, MacOS and MacBeacon software, and at least one iPhone with iOS 7 or higher.

For a long time, devices manufactured by Estimote were considered the reference implementation of the iBeacon technology. Lately, Apple’s retail stores around the world offer the devices of Gimbal company, a former division of Qualcomm, that evolved into an independent enterprise.

iBeacon alternatives

The main alternatives to Apple iBeacon technology are the Google Eddystone platform and the AltBeacon protocol created by Radius Networks in 2014. The main difference between Eddystone and iBeacon is that Google’s platform allows to transmit different types of frames, including URIBeacon and telemetry frames. In turn, iBeacon’s benefit is the simplicity of implementation and development.

Comparison with NFC

BLE supports communication at shorter distances than the traditional Bluetooth, but still it is a distance communication – in contrast to the NFC, where to create contact between the smartphone and the mark, it is almost necessary to adjoin them. To make a payment the user brings the smartphone near the reader and then comes the “recognition” of the smartphone and the identification of the user and his data. Roughly speaking, the scheme works similarly to that for all kinds of payment cards – that is a very simple interaction scheme.

BLE allows for schemes that are more complex. The user may receive marketing and other communications from the shops, including, by the way, electronic discount coupons. At the same time, such messages can be sent based on user preferences, determined in their previous visits to the store. Moreover, the user can receive the message that his favorite brand of clothing is sold also in other shops complete with their locations.

Moreover, if we look back to electronic payments, in the presence of iBeacons the user does not even have to come close to cashier – it is enough to be in the reach of one of the iBeacons, which would be all around.

Final thoughts

As of today, the most difficult part of the iBeacon technology equation is to achieve such an extension of this tech, so everyone would want to keep the Bluetooth always enabled. Studies show that beacons increase the consumer interest, the number of corporate application downloads and people are more willing to leave it in their smartphones. Business has already accepted iBeacon – next is the turn of the consumers.

If you are interested in the opportunities offered by iBeacon, you can contact us today and discuss your ideas in detail. Our company has the required experience, experts and knowledge of the technology to bring an iBeacon projects to success.