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):
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.
Be the Beacon!