Each decade seems to bring its paradigm-shifting technology. And while Bluetooth LE is helping to make our devices smarter and more responsive to the physical world, they’re also the sign of a shift to task-specific, low-cost computers.
The 80′s brought us the microprocessor, personified by the proliferation of the familiar beige box we know as the desktop. The 90′s was the age of interconnection , personified by the global telecommunication network we know as the Internet. The 00′s was the age of portable computing personified in the device we call the smart phone.
So what will personify the technology for the decade ahead?
There are a couple of names for it right now. We call it the Internet of Things (IoT). Others call it “ubiquitous computing”. Whatever you call it, it’s the proliferation of low cost general purpose computers.
These computers are taking jobs once occupied by dedicated embedded systems: the embedded timing computer in your microwave or watch; the “blower” computer inside of a hand dryer; or the computer in your new Nest thermostat.
BLE As a Dedicated System for Proximity
Dedicated embedded systems are built to a specific task, whereas general purpose computers are adaptable. The same ARM based Linux SoC (System on a Chip) that powers the worlds beacons could find a home almost anywhere else. Ovens, toasters, even light bulbs or hand dryers. They run for years on button cell batteries and they are only going to get cheaper, faster and more powerful.
Bluetooth beacons are an excellent example of just how much the Internet of Things is going to shift experience design and with it, consumer expectations. Whether sonic based, Bluetooth LE or Bluetooth dualband all these beacons really do is facilitate the digital equivalent of playing a game of Marco Polo.
In doing so, they give mobile phones a spatial sense, the ability to approximate where they are in a space and the capacity to react to that information.
The applications with just this new found sense of “place” is enormous. Anywhere you’d want to engage and delight a group of people you can bring them location-specific multimedia experiences. Double your sales floor with digital shelves. Create reactive art. And sure, even just-in-time coupons are possible.
Whatever you do, if you do it right you’ll bring a unique value to your physical space. One that can’t be found anywhere else.
Proximity is Just the Beginning
On its own, this ability to calculate proximity is profound – but might not seem like that big a deal. We can already figure out where we are with GPS and triangulated WiFi and other technologies.
The difference is that Bluetooth LE doesn’t just represent a way of finding out where you are, it represents part of a broader wave in which ubiquitous, low-cost computers will change the fabric of the physical world itself.
Just like the sound of a modem dialing up in the days of AOL might not have seemed like a big deal it heralded a new age of interconnection and communication. And today, while the sound of a coupon appearing in your app as you shop might not seem like a big deal, it’s a sign of bigger things to come.