iBeacon, it's just like Minority Report but with more shopping

If you work in advertising you’ve probably heard vague and yet meaningful whisperings of this new iBeacon technology (Bluetooth Low Energy 4.0 to be precise). If so, you’re probably wondering what it can do for you, and how you can sell it to your client for a massive suitcase of cash. As someone who’s spent weeks researching the field, here’s the facts.

What is iBeacon?
As a technology, iBeacon is absolutely nothing special, yet it has an incredible and mammoth potential for development. It’s what techies like to call a ‘location aware service’ – using your phone’s Bluetooth signal it can establish your position around a central beacon or a host of the devices. It knows exactly where your phone, and by association you, are standing. Walls are no problem; the technology was developed for use in an indoor environment, seemingly tailor made to track you through a shopping centre and push your pennies into some enterprising retailer’s till. While the ‘i’ in iBeacon betrays its Apple origins, the tech is pretty much built ubiquitously into any modern smartphone.

The main misconceptions that people have with the tech are that they presume an iBeacon will be able to magically beam content to a consumer’s phone. Most of these dreamlike scenarios work as follows: Consumer passes shop window. Checking their phone they’ve been sent a location-aware notification. ‘Come inside! We’ve got the coolest sneakers and a special discount for YOU!’ etc. The actual reality is so far from this that it exists in a parallel universe. An iBeacon in merely a tool to obtain an accurate location. All those megabytes of content have to come from somewhere and they’re certainly not coming from the beacon itself.

From your own personal usage you’ll know how a smartphone can become that touchstone of modern existence, a host of notifications and apps always clamouring for attention. The figures confirm what we all suspect – Three quarters of all UK adults now own a smartphone. Approximately half - 48% - download apps, up from 37% in 2012. UK adults have an average of 23 apps on their phone, using 10 regularly. We are living through the nascent birth of the integrated and amplified age. iBeacon is going to play a huge part in this.

And here’s the problem – we’re at the early adoption phase. Brands can get iBeacon compatible tech on your phone in two ways. They can either design and build an app and provide you with the knowledge of its existence and enough of a call to action and a bloody great incentive to download it. Or they can partner with an existing app which you’re likely to already have on your phone. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Uber, whatever. There’s no ‘one stop shop’ for location aware content. And believe me, the big players are already working on it.

The heart of the matter is obtaining content from a consumer. We don’t want to download a separate app for each and every brand or shop that might be offering perks or experiences. Once an easy way to obtain this consent is established, we’ll see at lot more brands embracing location aware services and realising the transformative journey they’ll be able to create. Dozens of start-ups and thousands of mortgages are resting on this technology taking off. We’ll be seeing a lot more very soon.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Derek's picture

Great article, clarifying some of the many misconceptions about beacons. But your "dreamlike scenario" has existed for years: iSIGN Media manufactures a product called "Smart Antenna" that sends real ads directly to the shopper's phone as they walk by the window, or anywhere else within a store (location aware). Plus it gets to 100% of the people since it doesn't use an app of any kind. I would call the Smart Antenna a "one stop shop"...

David Felton's picture

Hey Derek, thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. I've not heard of this Smart Antenna before, but if it really does what you say that's pretty amazing. I'll be sure to check it out for comparison.

Dabitch's picture

Smart antenna sounds like the mobile tech that just to text ads to phones nearby. Is it similar?

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