Getting Started with Estimote: 5 Things You Might Not Know

Our Estimotes arrived. The courier seemed to think the fact they came from Poland was such a big deal he mentioned it three times. But for us, the big deal of course was the beacons themselves – we felt like we’d won the lottery, what with Estimote struggling a bit to catch up with the insane global demand and lots of people begging for a shipping date.

Update: We’ve posted a follow-up to this post where we explore discovery, range and precision.

We haven’t had time to put them through their technical paces yet. Like a lot of people playing with iBeacons and Bluetooth LE the real evaluation comes when you start calibrating interference levels, multi-beacon triangulation and signal strength.

But there were a few things we quickly learned about Estimote beacons – and I thought I’d share. Although frankly, some of what I learned will make me sound a bit, um, slow.

(While our technical team was drooling over the battery specs and RSSI stuff, I was still reading the box!)

So, here’s my list of 5 things you might not know about Estimote (or 5 things that clearly show I’m no rocket scientist):

Estimote-start
Unpacking Estimotes

They’re Cute and They Come with a Button

Estimote beacons are fricking cute. Which probably doesn’t sound like something you should care about but I disagree. Form factor matters.

The packaging might not mean a lot to a developer, but it will mean something to you if you’re planning to ship them to local retailers or galleries or other clients. How the beacons are packaged will make a big difference in how they’re perceived by your customers, and Estimote is off to a good start. (The box even includes a cute little bio of Krakow, Poland).

But what actually surprised me about them, in spite having seen the pictures and videos, is how small they look and feel in person.

They’re cute, they’re touchable, they have a nice rubberized exterior, they have a very slightly spongy touch, the protector on the adhesive is well designed with a perfect little tab.

For someone who goes out to talk to people about iBeacons and IoT it will be fun to see how people react. I know that for the most part I’ll get a lot more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ than showing them an Arduino board.

Oh, and you get a free button.

Yes, They’re ON When They Arrive

It might sound obvious but we weren’t actually sure if the beacons were ‘on’ when they arrived.

In part this was because the Notification Demo app didn’t seem to work for us (we’re still trying to sort out why). We opened the sample app and wandered around in aimless circles hoping the app would DO something other than be stuck on a picture of shoes, so we started wondering if we needed to do something to turn the beacons on.

It wasn’t a big deal – we figured out through the other apps that YES, they are ON. But I had this odd compulsion to stab away at the little indented hole on the beacon.

The UUID Is B9407F30-F5F8-466E-AFF9-25556B57FE6D

To double-check the beacons, we wanted to use one or two of the existing iBeacon sample apps to see what would happen.

HiBeacons, for example, is a super simple little app that lets you scan for beacons and gives you ranging data. But for HiBeacons to work, you need to swap the UUID for the actual ID of the beacons for which you’re scanning.

Just replace the UUID for the ID above, and you’re off and running.

The Documentation is on GitHub NOT On Their Site

OK, call me stupid. But I was expecting documentation on the Estimote site, or failing that I figured maybe it would come in the box (a bizarre idea but I couldn’t figure it out).

But it turns out the documentation isn’t even mentioned on their “API” page. You need to drill down a page, find the source code mention, and then head over to GitHub where it’s buried inside the code download in a folder called “Documents”.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why Estimote doesn’t publish the class reference on their website? Am I the only one who thought they were missing a big chunk of documentation, only to accidentally discover it in a folder called “Documents” in the GitHub download?

So, if you’re looking for the hierarchy, class reference and protocols check the GitHub download. In the meantime, Estimote should put a big bold mention on their “API Documentation” page (because it ISN’T documentation) that says: the documentation buried in the download on GitHub!

The Rest Is Up to You

If you’re hoping to have a bunch of beacons and a sample app you can run around with to show off to customers, you’re probably out of luck. What they call “demo” or sample apps are more like little technical tests or code snippets than actual demos.

While their site gives the impression of some working functionality it’s a bit too much of a mixed bag to be usable as an actual demo with an account manager or your boss or whoever’s going to pay the development bills.

Now, these are developer kits but my guess is that not everyone ordering an Estimote kit has a developer around to help them whack out some code. So plan to have a bit of work done if you want to show off their power.

And maybe share some of your results with the rest of the world! It would be nice to have a little library of shared code via GitHub or elsewhere that can get us to “demo out of the box” for all the amazing people out there who are excited by iBeacons.

So for now, it’s time for me to go and play some more with the cuddly little turtles called Estimote.

I feel smarter today than I did yesterday and by the end of the weekend I’ll be….well, I’ll be a day or two older anyways, but equally excited about where we’re headed in a world of beacons.

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3 Responses to “Getting Started with Estimote: 5 Things You Might Not Know”

  1. Wow, tough love, but sometimes the truth hurts. At Sonic Notify we are continuously improving, our docs are included in our app bundle but they could use some work also. SDK you can download from our comprehensive and AWS hosted CMS. As to the samples, we have 3 included and generally provide more when we speak with clients during the initial project kickoff call where we assign a dedicated client project manager. They are fully built out iOS projects. All you have to do is hit build. First app is the core sample app, it shows you the raw calls received back from the sdk from the beacons. No content. The second sample is the UI sample. This has a built in listview which connects to our CMS. This lets you easily setup a piece of content and have it pop up when it is near your beacon. The third example is a Ad Sample. This is a MRAID 2.0 compliant ad view which can be used to deliver mraid ads. Ooh and did I mention, android projects also. Ooooh and we’ve been doing this for two years, best practices, analytics, REST api, etc etc etc. Give us a call.

    Reply
  2. LOVE the sound of it Alex. It’s weird – I think with all the press and hype about “Apple’s iBeacon” in Forbes and Biz Week and elsewhere it’s left the odd impression that “Oh, all I need to do is plug it in!”

    Of course the reality is that it takes the kinds of systems, thinking and development that you guys have done to actually create the value. The beacons are just the facilitator of a larger experience….and for a lot of people, there’s still a LOT of work to do!

    Reply

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