We live in a radio-interconnected world where our laptop computers and tablets communicate over WiFi, our phones and increasingly vehicles connect to high-speed wireless LTE networks and Bluetooth allows us to send music across the room. New wearable fitness devices use Bluetooth low-energy, also known as Bluetooth Smart to sync our smartphones to the daily motion data that these devices collect about us.
Each of the radio transmitters used for these scenarios are constantly beaconing unique identifiers in order for the devices that you own to connect to them. Think of this unique machine code to a barcode on a product, whereby the devices sort out the different machines to make the communication sequence work.
Where those devices above and their radios connect to transmit data, a new type of non-connecting emitter that Apple calls iBeacon is being used within sports arenas and some retailers as special identifiers. These also beacon out a unique machine code, but offer no further connectivity, much like a lighthouse would identify its identification with a visual pattern along a shoreline. These Bluetooth Smart beacons can be as small as a pair of stacked US quarters, and last a year or two on batteries. Typically they are stuck to a wall or to a store shelf in order to trigger an application installed on your phone when you approach them. Currently, at the launch of these beacons, you must have the corresponding application installed on your phone that knows the beacon’s sequence to “wake up” to, but Google is working on a project that will allow these beacons to broadcast their own website address so a mobile browser can automatically react to them without a specific application. These will not provide Internet access, but directions to the website and is similar to how GPS services work in the browser today, for adding location context to searches.
The goal for these beacons is to lure you into launching the app for more information about the space you are standing in. In the early 2000’s, QR codes attempted to achieve this same outcome, but proved to be too cumbersome to rise into ubiquity. Examples of their value is for your smartphone to pull up details about the art you are standing in front of in a museum, or information on a product or group of products such as iPhone accessories as you stand next to them in an Apple store.
Both of these use cases have the potential to be interruptive spam, with our phones waking up and alerting us as we move around the environment. At my company, NewAer, Inc. we are working with partners to ensure that an experience is empowering and beneficial to the user, without users feeling like we are disrupting the trust that they have with their smartphones while providing proximity-based context or value to those who allow their downloaded applications around push notifications. Meaning today, your phone alerts you when you have a phone call, SMS message or any number of the few apps that you allow push notifications to interrupt you. If stores begin to ping you as well, that will be the fastest way to have customers uninstall your application and abandon the service, like the QR code. We aim to prevent that before it gets out of hand.
At NewAer, Inc., we built an engine to do more than pop-up text messages and empower users with value added use cases. Real world examples are when you print a document from your laptop, the document prints to the nearest printer in proximity; useful for classrooms, offices or restaurants with employees on the move. And it’s applicable for devices moving out of range too. When you park your car, we see the Bluetooth disappear and drop a pin, reminding you where you parked, automatically in the background, so the map is there if you need it later.
Our project with Unilever’s Magnum ice-cream brand with the application MPulse alerts you when a friend is nearby, and if an additional beacon from a Magnum cooler is nearby, we will offer you an impulsive ice-cream social. So the interruption is from a friend, much like they would SMS you, albeit automatically if you allow it.
We think that it is time for smartphones to become smart, and act autonomously for you in the background, anticipating what you need to know around people, places and things. The mobile software scanning engine that we have built allows just that and we aim to be the operating system for the Internet of Things (IoT) world.