Introduction to iBeacon: Taking Bluetooth LE for a Test Drive

With the Apple launch of iBeacon – the ability to transmit and detect Bluetooth LE signals, we’re still lacking good real-world examples of the technology in action. We’ve been running our own tests, of course, and piloting them as part of our Virtual Citizen project with the Coalition of Youth Councils (about which more in a future post).

But the fine folks at Nerdery have put together a fantastic overview of their experiences and observations with iBeacons – with some snappy visuals to boot!

Their review takes us through the basics of beacons, the relevance of the data in a Bluetooth LE advertising packet (UUID, major, minor, etc) and how they designed a sample use case to test out the devices.

Managing Major/Minor Values with Firebase
They made an intriguing choice for managing their devices: using Firebase as a back-end in order to send out JSON packets to their app so that whenever they wanted to change a major/minor number on their phone-based beacons they could do it with a cloud-based click. (Proximity Kit from Radius does much the same thing, but without the need for you to code your own back-end, and it’s free for a test bed).

iBeacon Distance Diagram from Nerdery
iBeacon Distance Diagram from Nerdery

They provide some data for beacon ranges:

“From the outer detectable range of around 30m down to roughly 2m, the iBeacon is in the “far” zone. From 2m down to roughly .5m (18 inches), the iBeacon is classified in the “near” zone. Closer than .5m results in the iBeacon being in the “immediate” zone.”

But this data seems to be based on a beacon being created in an iOS phone or other device where you’re locked in to its power and signal settings. It’s not clear whether Nerdery also used physical beacons.

Because if you’re using physical beacons (like Kontakt, Estimote, GeLo or Arduino kits) then you can adjust the signal strength and power and you’ll get different ranges….up to 70 meters or more.

The Future of iBeacon
They conclude the post with some ideas for future use cases:

In fact, iBeacons have the potential to make a tremendous impact on all kinds of transactions where location is important. Some other potential applications:

  • Accurate user location for “check-in” functionality in loyalty programs.
  • Offering users promotions or discounts on products they’re actually standing close to (not giving them a Plasma TV promo when they’re clearly looking at refrigerators).
  • Accurate in-store mapping, allowing users to navigate to the product they’re looking for within the cavernous space of a big-box store.

Left unsaid in their review is how they handled some of the challenges of multiple beacons such as: resolving which beacon to “listen to” (which you can do by relying on the Apple API call for beacon:lastObject as a simple way to handle it); the amount of delay they saw in delivering LocalNotification (we see upwards of a 2 minute delay in some cases).

But they’ve put together a great summary – and have helped expand our understanding of Bluetooth LE and iBeacon technology.

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Be the Beacon!

6 Responses to “Introduction to iBeacon: Taking Bluetooth LE for a Test Drive”

  1. Diego Cavalcante

    Hello everyone,
    first i need to grateful this article, it was so much good.
    I´m brazilian, i don´t speak english very well.
    I love development.

    Do you know how to help me to understand, how the iBeacons send a notification for device.
    I want to create my own Beacon, but i don´t know where began.
    Do you have one link, with this information.
    step-by-step

    Could you tell me?

    I need so much this information

    Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Shrinivas Kulkanri

    Quality information. Looking forward for more guidance regarding the same.

    Reply
  3. Hello everyone,
    thank you for your interesting article, I’m looking for some technology to detect the position of a body and I’m thinking about Beacon. My goal is to measure position in the range of centimeters. Are Beacons able to detect properly the position?
    Thank you in advance

    Reply

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