Pinterest and Facebook Get Bluetooth Beacons? Meet You in the Middle

Stick'N Find Imagined as a Pinterest Pin
Stick’N Find Imagined as a Pinterest Pin

Is Pinterest on your Bluetooth beacon road map? What about Facebook? Or Google?

Apple might be getting all the buzz – seemingly laying claim to the ‘invention’ of Bluetooth LE as an NFC killer.

Macy’s might be laying stake to the erroneous idea that it’s the first retailer to put beacons in its stores. (Have you noticed how the press refers to them as “Apple’s iBeacon technology”? Their beacons use Bluetooth LE and audio signals to service the full range of devices – so I don’t understand why it gets associated only with Apple).

Meanwhile, there are silent first from Radius, Sonic Notify, OLE Engagements, Local Social and others.

Doesn’t matter: the real player to watch if you want to keep an eye on the future of Bluetooth beacons is Pinterest (and to a lesser but still monumental degree Facebook and Google).

Pinterest Places

This week, Pinterest launched Place Pins to help users plan their trips. And it isn’t a stretch to imagine that they were talking about a world of beacons:

Place Pins were designed to combine the beautiful imagery of a travel magazine with the utility of a map online so you can share it with friends. You can access them from anywhere on your smartphone, too, which means you can find new places on the go and even get directions!

While the technology is based on GPS and maps, it doesn’t take much to imagine that the idea will go well beyond booking a trip or hotel. It’s not that I expect Pinterest to get into the hardware business – but what I DO expect is that they’ll allow real-world objects to, at some point, access their API.

Pinterest Place Pins
Pinterest Places (Image via Pinterest)

Earlier this month, Pinterest finally started opening up its firehose of data to outsiders. It was a long time coming, and there’s still an impatient horde waiting to dive deeper into the Pinterest data stream and build their own content around “pins”. For now, they’re partnering with big brands:

We’re excited to announce that partners can now showcase their most popular Pins right on their own websites and mobile apps. We’re rolling out our first set of API endpoints with partners such as Zappos, Target, Nestle, Walmart and Hearst. 

We’re starting slow and working on high-quality integrations with partners of different sizes, many of whom have already seen success on Pinterest.  In the coming weeks, we’ll release additional API endpoints that’ll surface different groups of Pins on partner sites.

Target? Nestle? Walmart? Wow…those sound like brands as big as, well, Macy’s.

So can it really be that far off to suggest that we’ll see “Pins from specific beacons” added to this list: “This includes APIs for your domain, like top repinsmost recent Pinsrelated Pinsmost clicked-through Pins and Pins from specific search terms.”

Facebook and Small Business

This week, Facebook expanded its coverage of small businesses to 25 million – mostly by changing how it defined them. It’s part of their dedication and commitment to…um, making more money:

“We continue to hear feedback from small businesses and incorproate it, and we still have a lot of potential left,” he said.

As for the mobile ads that account for 49 percent of Facebook’s revenue, Levy argued that Facebook is a great way for SMBs to establish a presence on smartphones — by creating a Facebook page and advertising on Facebook, they automatically have “a mobile marketing presence” and “a mobile advertising strategy” without doing any extra work.

But hand-in-hand with their perpetual chase of the marketing dollar, a relatively overlooked announcement last month put Facebook squarely in the hardware business. In partnership with Cisco, Facebook is offering free WiFi to mall owners and shop keepers as part of its Connected Mobile Experience product.

For the price of a Facebook check-in, retailers can grab themselves some free WiFi:

So how does this solution work? When my wife and daughter are in the mall doing some holiday shopping and walk into a store running CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi, my daughter opens a browser on her mobile device, goes to any page and is directed to a “check in with Facebook” login page. She logs in to her Facebook account, is given access to the store’s Wi-Fi network and is taken to their Facebook Page. From there she can check-in, “like” the store, use and share promotional information with her Facebook friends. 

Again, it’s not a stretch to imagine that instead of WiFi, Facebook would pass out a bunch of Bluetooth LE beacons – devices that can price down to a few bucks if you buy them at massive volume.

Pop some Facebook Beacons on the wall and it’s not free WiFi that you’re getting, but a seamless connection to your Facebook account, in-store offers, and contactless payments.

The Big Guys Can Get Your App Open

There’s a lot of power in Facebook and Pinterest and Google. Their apps are already open on your phone: on Apple devices, you can’t scan for Bluetooth LE unless your app is open. Expect a land rush in local marketing dollars as app developers plant ads in your Facebook feed or across Google products so that they can find a way for you to pop open their in-store app when you get close to a location.

Facebook, Google and Pinterest already have your attention: it’s a short leap from there to collecting massive gobs of advertising money as part of the consumer on-boarding experience into your Bluetooth LE-powered app.

They’ve got the eyeballs because their apps are often opened dozens of times a day. And you’ve got an app that needs to get opened. While there are lots of other strategies for achieving the same result, expect to see even more robust APIs and ad placement options to achieve the same effect: grabbing attention based on location so that you can start feeding content based on proximity.

From the Beacon Up

Emerging technologies develop in two ways.

They emerge from the bottom of the stack – right down to the chipsets and assembly-level code. You make a chip, you put it in a device, and then you start layering services on top of that. From a BlueGiga chip through to an Estimote or Kontakt device right up to a Sonic Notify integrated solution you move yourself up the chain.

And it emerges from the top of the stack: big players who are already entrenched in a space start appending “down”: Digby will add a Bluetooth LE layer; Urban Airship adds Bluetooth LE push notifications, ShopKick partners with Macy’s to add a device to its GPS-based app.

It’s when these two counter-pressures meet in the middle that things start to get really interesting.

Estimote gives Pinterest a call to become its first partner in “proximity pins”, say. Or Radius partners with Facebook to build the first robust API that connects to the popular Parse back-end mobile solution and deliver “Facebook beacons” to local retailers.

Because while there’s lots of jockeying in the middle, what really matters isn’t what Macy’s is doing, it’s what the top of the pyramid decides to take on.

The technology pyramid is the fuel for the entire digital industry and at the top of that pyramid are Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and….well, Apple.

Will Apple Keep the Keys?

And that’s the trillion dollar question. Because we’re not talking here about pinning a pair of shoes. Or updating directions in Google Now based on beacons in your local mall.

We’re talking about an operating system for the physical world. The ability to conduct transactions without going anywhere near a cash register. The ability to pay for stuff without ever taking out your wallet, and sharing the experience with your friends, and monitoring your heart rate as you go for a jog in your new Nike shoes.

iBeacons aren’t just a way to send you coupons. They’re the most visible front at the new digital frontier. Because while a decade or two ago we were all talking about the war for eyeballs and domains and ownership of the online universe, there’s a new digital domain to be fought over.

It has a name and its name is reality.

Do you think Apple or Android are going to stand idly by and let everyone pin and poke and like and transact and buy while letting someone else earn all the cash? If so, you haven’t watched what happens in TV, or content, or books, or online shopping, or radio: the battle for a slice of the wallet can be ruthless and can upend entire industries.

Now it’s reality’s turn.

Let’s all meet in the middle. Let’s get Pinterest talking to Estimote and Facebook talking to Bluetooth LE app developers and Amazon talking to some guys tinkering around with BlueGiga.

But don’t expect Apple to join the conversation as we start to think about how to pin and poke the physical world: they have plans of their own, and they’re not telling.

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