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Beacon raises bar in location awareness

10 Sep 2014  | Sally Ward-Foxton

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As for what this market will look like, ABI speculates that the development of technologies like sensor fusion for handsets will enable a whole new set of consumer applications. These potential applications will span ambient intelligence, social networking, corporate and enterprise, fitness and health, mobile advertising, and gaming. However, the biggest focus will be on retail.

Bluetooth Smart beacon product

Figure 2: Estimote's Bluetooth Smart beacon product enables retailers to provide proximity-based advertising.

Retail offers a major use case for Bluetooth Smart beacons in the form of contextual advertising. Smartphones with the retailer's app installed can be located with enough accuracy to tell whether a consumer is in the wine aisle or perusing the dog food, and use this information to send appropriate coupons to help make a sale, in the form of push notifications about deals and discounts. However, there are almost unlimited potential applications out there, from providing information about exhibits in a museum, to finding 'dead zones' in large stores. Notifications could be used to entice users into certain areas of the supermarket, or perhaps to the cinema in a shopping mall with a well-timed special-offer on popcorn.

As an example, Virgin Atlantic has recently implemented beacon technology in its areas at London's Heathrow Airport. The beacons, from designer Estimote, send notifications to those passengers who have downloaded their electronic boarding pass to the Apple Passbook app. The boarding pass can be popped up automatically as the passenger nears the gate, or passengers entering the airline lounge areas can be sent a welcome message. Alerts about boarding times, and duty-free special offers, are also possible.

Of course, since beacon technology uses push notifications, there is the possibility that too many notifications or the wrong type, instead of being seen as useful information by the consumer, would simply become annoying. Supporters of the technology point out that since users have to install the app of a particular company they wish to receive notifications from, they can easily remove the app if they wish to opt-out. Ultimately, widespread adoption of the technology by the consumer could come down to retailers keeping their notifications as helpful and unobtrusive as possible. That could be asking a lot.

The article originally appeared in Nordic Semiconductor's in-house magazine ULP Wireless Q.

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