Commentary

The Lowdown on Low Energy Beacons

Beacons, beacons everywhere.

In the category of bright, shiny objects discussed at the MediaPost Mobile Insider Summit this week, the subject of Apple’s iBeacon (and beacons in general) had to come up.

The task of outlining and defining a way to look at iBeacon was deftly handled by Tim Dunn, director of strategy and mobile at Isobar. He said there are five steps to understanding iBeacon:

  • It’s a beacon (that one everyone had already guessed)
  • It’s a protocol, passed over distances, as in Bluetooth low energy (BLE, as they like to say)
  • It doesn’t do much. It just says: ‘Hey, it’s me’
  • You need an app to hear a beacon
  • Beacon is a blanket term (this means other companies produce such sensors)

The overall point Dunn made was that these small beacons simply are transmitters. They can send a message to someone nearby who wants to receive it. And that’s the key.

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Beacons, such as those from Qualcomm we saw inside gas pumps at the CES International show, can easily link with willing smartphone owners while they pump gas.

They also act as sensors, sensing when a willing smartphone is open to a message.

As in many stages of mobile commerce, the ultimate consumer usage of beacons is yet to be determined, and organizations like Shopkick and American Eagle Outfitters are experimenting with them in hopes of finding out.

The beacons are getting ready to transmit inside all of retail stores.

Most mobile consumers don’t yet even know the messages are coming.

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