Bluetooth LE Proximity Technology: What’s the Big Deal?

Open Your Eyes to Bluetooth LE
Open Your Eyes to Bluetooth LE

When Apple adopted Bluetooth LE we finally arrived at a proximity-based technology supported by all the major platforms (with the phones running them soon to follow).

With Apple refusing to adopt Near Field Communications (NFC) and challenges in its adoption by consumers, Bluetooth LE and ‘beacons’ finally seem to give us a way to….locate people?

But doesn’t that sound a lot like GPS or other ways we use to find our way around?

In other words: what’s the big deal? How does this really change the type of services I can give my clients? How is this different than GPS?

The Right Tool for The Right Job

Modern mobile phones have a number of ways to determine where they are in the world.
There is the accelerometer which can tell the phone if it’s being moved but can’t determine position. Acceleration-based technology isn’t suitable for determining displacement.

There’s GPS and A-GPS. The former is a power hungry, time intensive global positioning system. The latter (Assisted or Approximate GPS) gives your phone a quick fix on its position but is delivered at the cost of accuracy. These position-based technologies requires upwards of 40 seconds to calculate where you are and continue to use a fair bit of battery power to operate after that. Things only get worse when you move indoors.

The missing link is a proximity-based technology.

What Your Phone Sees
Take a second and close your eyes. This is what your phone sees right now.

It has no way of knowing where it is in a room. It has no way of knowing if it’s moved within proximity of something else. To a degree, it can sense movement with the accelerometer. With enough time it can calculate its position when it has a GPS fix. But it has no spatial sense. It has no sense of proximity.

In humans, our accelerometer is our inner ear. Anyone who’s ever rolled down a hill knows how difficult (or fun) it is to operate when the inner ear is incapacitated. Likewise, anyone who’s ever stumbled down a dark hallway at night – no doubt stubbing their toe on the way – has an understanding of what the world is like without a spatial sense, without a sense of proximity.

You may know where you are – your position – you’re in your house. But within the house – within the specific hallway, you don’t how close you are to … a shin smacking a coffee table. Your spatial sense has been incapacitated and its debilitating.

Turning on the Lights

It’s a proximity-based service that gives your phone a spatial sense. Spatial sense is something we take for granted. It’s the ability for you to approximate where we are in a space. Enough to make an assumption and then take an action. This is essential for everyday decision-making.

This is what Bluetooth LE makes more accessible. While there are other ways to do the same thing, such as sonic sensing and triangulated WiFi, Bluetooth LE is a cost-effective way to give mobile phones a spatial sense and with it the ability to make decisions based on environment.

What we can do with this new sense is so much more than museum tours or in-store coupons: it’s the difference between imagining the world with a blindfold on and imagining it with a whole new set of eyes.

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