iBeacons are the solution to all of your digital interpretative problems – or how do they work?


We have been working with Beacons since being introduced to them one winter’s evening in a warm pub in 2014. We “Heart” their simple, tiny, unconnected loveliness, no, We do! We really do! We are awash with gratitude for the extra triggers that they bring to our location based applications however, there is a catch, a sting in the tail, caveat emptor based element to their panacean lushness. Well there are a few actually. None of which seem to be being passed on by those that sing their benefits. So further to our 2 years of playing and integrating the wee mites into our systems this is what we have learnt (BTW if you want to know more about just how they work here is a presentation we gave to the UK and Ireland Association for Heritage interoperation last year on Slideshare :


a) Do not use them as substitutes for a lat, lon! These wee things do not have to be outside like some QR Code with a battery. There are a couple of times where we have seen real benefits to an App user if the beacon is outside. But this use was not as a substitute for a lat, lon. Those phones that your apps are sitting on. They have a GPS, it works (sometimes better than others but it works for free and is usually 5 – 10 metres accurate. Why put a stealable, breakable physical thing in the great outdoors unless you really need to trigger something that is perhaps “hidden” or need proximity (how you get them to be so proximate is down to you!).
b) Do not be led down the path of cheap generic devices with pretty brand names! They have an indeterminate life-span, they are not as configurable and the end up costing more to look after than it is worth. We have tried a number of makes and associated SDKs and other tools and have found our beacon making friends. They even sent us a nice card at christmas that encourage our “Happy tinkering” – if you want to know who – please get in touch and we will tell.
c) When you get that large delivery of beacon – make sure that you have a simple, robust and linked in method (read app) for registering them against the system, client, location. A label machine is good too
d) They can do wonderful wonderful things in interior spaces.
e) Do not delve lightly into the realm of internal triangulation and location in the aforementioned inner spaces. It might work on some devices reasonably well in simple internal spaces (a large foyer for instance). But, what works on a Samsung, might be a disaster on a HTC and a dream on an iPhone 6. If your objective is to guide visitors, users around an internal space there are ways that we have found beacons can do much to assist but reliably telling them where they are in relation to the space and on a plan is still too hit & miss (from our experience anyway).
f) They have other intriguing, invisible roles to play in some of the systems that we are currently developing.

If you would like to know more about how we use beacons within our apps and how we are exploiting some of their more intriguing capabilities please get in touch.