iBeacon

24 07 2014

Aeronautical beacons are well-known but the only relation to my topic is that the communication between Apple’s iBeacons and mobile devices also works over the air, not in the visible frequency spectrum of electromagnetic waves but in the invisible near frequency spectrum.

About waves …

Your iOS devices are nothing without waves.

Waves are the food for every mobile device connected to the internet, your carrier, or an iBeacon and contain the information e.g. needed for your browser to show websites, for a phone call to transmit your voice, and for an iBeacon connection to exchange data if you are near to it.

You all know water waves, seismic waves and waves that transmit the sound from one person to another or from speakers to your ear. Sometimes sound waves contain good news or bad news. Whatever is transmitted by waves it’s always INFORMATION.

In case of iPhones contacting your carrier or iPads contacting your wireless access point, waves are Electromagnetic Waves. In contrast to water waves (propagating through water), the sound (propagating through gas) and seismic waves (propagating through the earth) electromagnetic waves don’t need a medium. They also can carry information while propagating through the vacuum with the speed of light (about 300.000 m/sec). That’s pretty fast and helps when transmitting information to your device because there are many disturbers around us and so information has to be transmitted several times before being identified as those destined for you.

Look here for waves in motion

Simple Wikipedia

Properties of waves are among others the amplitude (height of cycles) and the frequency (number of cycles per second). Sound waves have a low frequency when we hear a deep tone. The frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz).

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Image (1) shows an AM (amplitude modulated) wave and Image (2) an FM (frequency modulated) wave. You all know AM and FM if you ever looked on a radio’s dashboard. The more important method is to transmit information with a frequency modulated wave.

In an area of interference signals may be extinguished due to the fact that a wave peak may meet a wave trough.

About iBeacons …

iBeacon is Apple’s name for a technology that allows mobile apps to know how close they are to tiny, low-cost, wireless transmitters called hardware iBeacons.
iBeacons technology isn’t a development of Apple. Many recent Android devices already support it. iBeacons broadcast signals using the well-known Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) standard, allowing precise, indoor geo-location (often called ‘Micro- location’) where smartphones or tablets are not able to receive GPS signals from satellites, but also contextual interaction and engagement, as proximity to an iBeacon can trigger some specific app functionalities or even launch an app.

Bluetooth low energy, Bluetooth LE, or BLE, marketed as Bluetooth Smart, is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group aimed at novel applications in the healthcare, fitness, security, and home entertainment industries. Compared to “Classic” Bluetooth, BLE is intended to provide considerably reduced power consumption and cost while maintaining a similar communication range.
Bluetooth LE was originally introduced under the name Wibree by Nokia in 2006. It was merged into the main Bluetooth standard in 2010 with the adoption of the Bluetooth Core Specification Version 4.0.
Mobile operating systems including iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, as well as OS X and Windows 8, natively support Bluetooth low energy. The Bluetooth SIG predicts more than 90 percent of Bluetooth-enabled smartphones will support the low energy standard by 2018.

iBeacon-enabled apps are notified when the device moves in and out of the range of iBeacons. They monitor the distance as their proximity changes over time. This allows apps to know precisely where they are not in terms of a map but relative to known points within a building.

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iBeacons are tiny battery-operated radio signal stations you can place wherever you want. If your mobile device gets within range, it senses iBeacons and locates itself.
iBeacons broadcast a “I am here!” message (approximately once per second) to any device within range of the Bluetooth Low Energy radio signal; since each iBeacon has its own ID, the mobile device can tell them apart and recognize the context of the world around itself.
iBeacons usually just identify themselves by an ID but do not transfer other data than this.

Micro-locating a device can initiate interaction, engagement, and contextual information. Mobile apps receiving signals of iBeacons can be triggered triggered to perform a specific action on a specific mobile device at a specific time and in a specific location.

Summarized, iBeacon signals can

  • precisely locate you within a building
  • triangulate constantly and quietly in the background
    When you pull out your phone, the right content is there waiting for you. This immediacy is one big advantage Bluetooth now has over clunky predecessors like NFC and QR codes.
  • make suggestions what you can do with the help of an iBeacon capable app

iBeacons therefore make it possible to seamlessly engage with people in a physical space through their mobile devices.

Some examples …

Contextualized deals
iBeacons technology allows to convey specific, customized deals to shoppers based on time and day, their purchase history, their loyalty, etc. Think of very customized offers; for example a shopper has checked an item in a store but did not purchase it. The retailer then can offer the shopper a discount via email or directly on the mobile device the next time he enters the same store (or an other chain store).

Monitoring shoppers behavior
Monitoring shoppers behavior (store visits, walking-paths, etc.) is another possibility. With the help of an iBeacons the retailer may get the information (in real-time) that the shopper has been standing in front of one specific display for more than three minutes; sensing second-by-second a shopper’s (inferred) interest about a specific product, the system can supply additional information such as online reviews and – talking about fashion – other available styles or colours. As you go on shopping, a blue tie might (metaphorically) tell you: “I’m perfect with the gray suit you purchased here last week”.

This is one side of a coin and this application of iBeacons might be nerve-racking for many of us who already suffer from the constant onslaught of ad on TV, on websites, and nearly all other areas of live.

So let’s have a look on the coin’s backside.

In developed countries with public health care the emphasis on personal responsibility has been the best way to both reduce costs and make the system more efficient. In America you have to go through the gauntlet of health care providers and insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies to take charge of your own good health. If Apple’s iBeacon software is installed in the next ambulance to arrive at my home then an iPhone might light up with your emergency information automatically once you are inside the vehicle. You might not even be conscious. But your iPhone can give them what they need to know to start treating you. The device might also tell them you have had high blood pressure for the past six weeks and rising. All this with a personal tracking iWatch and the M7 motion processor on the iPhone.

To emphasize the more useful applications of the iBeacon technology let me another example.

You are walking through a museum of art, iBeacon micro-locates you and provides information about the artist of an artwork you are looking at.

It would be no problem to write further 10 blogs about possible applications of this technology. It’s up to the creativity to find out nearly unlimited further applications.

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Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts HD for iPad (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited. The DOCX file format is suggested for those who don’t use a mind mapping tool. The file contains the image as well as a detailed outline of all topics.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple iWork/Microsoft Office DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

The crux is that a new operating system provides an option – like for Location Services – to turn off the bit radiation which might affect our health. The two communicating devices, the iBeacon and the iPhone – shouldn’t get control over our most important processor, our brain.

Platforms …

The great news about iBeacons technology is that both Apple (with iOS and OS X) and Google (with Android) have committed to support for Bluetooth LE – this means very, very broad availability (literally millions of devices are already iBeacon-enabled) and there is no danger of launching services targeted at a single operating system.

What about Microsoft?

Microsoft appears to have recently added support for Bluetooth Low Energy in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8; Nokia’s recent Lumia WP8 phones are confirmed to include BLE hardware.

Some technical details …

An iBeacon identifies itself using three customizable values

  • Proximity UUID (128 Bit)
  • Major (16 Bit)
  • Minor (16 Bit)

So there are three levels to identify a micro-location: only Proximity UUID, Proximity UUID and Major, Proximity UUID and Major and Minor.

For example

  • Proximity UUID identifies your entire retail company, Major identifies a specific store and Minor specify individual shelves or different checkout tills inside each store.
  • Proximity UUID identifies your museum, Major identifies a specific gallery within the museum and Minor identifies an exhibit within that gallery.

The radio signals of iBeacons allow to calculate distances in qualitative

  • Immediate
    (less than 50 cm)
  • Near
    (approximately 50 cm to 2-5 m)
  • Far
    (more or less between 50 cm and 30-50 m, depending on walls, the iBeacon output power, and many other factors like interference)

Bluetooth low energy is not backward-compatible with the previous, often called Classic, Bluetooth protocol. The Bluetooth 4.0 specification permits devices to implement either or both of the LE and Classic systems. Those that implement both are known as Bluetooth 4.0 dual-mode devices.

Bluetooth LE uses the same 2.4 GHz radio frequencies as Classic Bluetooth, which allows dual-mode devices to share a single radio antenna. LE does, however, use a simpler modulation system.

iBeacon vs NFC vs QR-Codes …

I think we must not talk about QR-Codes which are powerful for industrial production but not accepted as a relevant source of information by the majority of people. Admittedly we might find QR-Codes on boxes containing iBeacons or NFC Tags.

Since Apple’s 2013 announcement, the press has been praising iBeacon for its ability to passively identify the in-venue presence of smartphone-equipped consumers. They have also been praising it for its ability to passively notify and then subsequently deliver localized information. These features, along with the press’ embrace of iBeacon’s perceived ease-of-use, location services, energy efficiency, security and low cost, have made iBeacon the sweetheart of the tech industry.

Since the press’ enthusiasm for iBeacon has gone largely unchallenged, many have taken the liberty to label NFC as irrelevant because it lacks iBeacon-like features. But, is this the truth?

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Although the NFC environment is very different and has many non-overlapping applications, it is still compared with iBeacons.

  • NFC range is up to 20 cm (7.87 inches) but the optimal range is < 4 cm (1.57 inches). iBeacons have a significantly larger range.
  • NFC can be either passive or active. When using passive mode, the power is sent from the reader device as radio signals. Whereas although Passif (a company acquired by Apple) has worked on reducing the energy consumption, a battery pack is still needed inside iBeacon tags at this time.
  • Most smartphones ship with both Bluetooth 4.0 LE and NFC support but at this time, no iOS device has been released with NFC support.
  • A BLE beacon is great for passively enabling a retailer’s mobile app to deliver promotions, coupons or offers direct to the consumer’s smartphone when the consumer is in the general vicinity. NFC can’t do that. But if you want to research a specific Nikon SLR, for example, you can scan an NFC-enabled shelf tag next to it and study to your heart’s content. BLE can’t deliver that much location granularity.

So the final conclusion is:

iBeacon is the much more powerful technique mainly because of it’s range and automated communication.

Advocates of the NFC technology might argue with the lower costs of NFC tags (about 0.5$) compared to iBeacons (about 25$). But because of the limited range you need far more NFC tags distributed e.g. in a retail store (approximate price Apr 2014).

iBeacon demo …

Here is a video showing iBeacons in action.
It was published on December 10, 2013 by InnoQuant, an advanced analytics software company founded in Barcelona in 2010. InnoQuant provides data analytics services and software solutions to solve problems of Big Data Analytics such as real-time mobile marketing.
InnoQuant technology allows users to monitor, analyze and engage their customers via mobile apps providing strategic tools for their business.

Summary …

iBeacon technology is extremely powerful and flexible, so engineers, marketers, and others have the opportunity to create new important applications to improve people’s lives and to create business value for big and small companies. But don’t worry about the innovative new big brother. Instead of crying ‘Stop bothering me!’ just turn Bluetooth off.

I’m sure that apps of serious retailers will offer some options to choose the kind of information you want to receive. If not they are at risk that customers will delete the app, block information flow, or in a worst case scenario, say Good Riddance to the company.

Related links …

iPhone’s Dining Habits

Mystic signs of progress

About Bluetooth

List of BT Smart Devices

Thanks for visiting my blog beacon.


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