iBeacon: Is Bluetooth On? And Other Insights from Empatika

Empatika and iBeaconWhat are the biggest challenges in designing experiences around Bluetooth LE beacons? Can we even count on consumers to have Bluetooth on? And can iBeacon technology do more than just deliver coupons?

For the developers at Moscow’s Empatika the answers to these questions haven’t always come easy but they’ve come through winning strategies for user experiences that don’t just work – they do some good too.

Starting with a win at the PayPal Battle Hack in Moscow last September where they developed an app called City Talk which helps the visually impaired get oriented in a convenience store, through to the world finals in San Jose where they won for an app which makes donations easier, the team has a proven track record for big thinking and excellent execution.

I spent some time connecting with Bayram Annakov, CEO of the company, and discovered that their company faced many of the same challenges in designing a user experience around iBeacon that we’ve documented previously – and gained a new appreciation for the ‘art of the beacon’. My interview follows.

First, the headline:

Q: How Many Phones Have Bluetooth On?

A: Based on our own apps across 50,000 iPhone users, 33% already have Bluetooth turned on. With the update to iOS7 Apple now turns your Bluetooth on, and you can of course prompt your user when they download your iBeacon app. But what’s most interesting is there’s a big difference in different countries: for example, US and Canada have the highest rates (50%), while Russia has only 25%, and in the UK the rate is about 33%.

These numbers might seem like a barrier, but I think there are 3 things that help:
  • Apple takes a number of steps to help you turn on your Bluetooth
  • Lots of smart devices are working on Bluetooth – from wristbands to smart watches. And there will be much more.
  • You can use offline signs to remind a customer – hints to people that you should turn on Bluetooth just like you’ll see signs for WiFi.

Q: What are the three most challenging things about beacons for developers?

A: The first one is in understanding the key differences between CoreLocation and CoreBluetooth frameworks in iOS. There are different issues with both of them especially in terms of background mode. For instance, with CoreLocation we have pretty nice control over entering a region and very bad control over exiting (you need to try to range and if there are no beacons then confirm the exit, but it only works when the screen is on, i.e. in foreground mode)

CoreBluetooth on the other hand give us pretty nice control but even worse background locating (we can’t use “connection” to the beacon since it becomes unavailable for others).

The second one is in different “BLE implementations” by manufacturers. There are plenty of them right now on the market and everyone has its own features in terms of decoding the signal data. I hope that as more manufacturers apply to become iBeacons and follow the Apple specifications that this will become less of an issue.

The third one is that you need to consider combining several APIs (Location + Beacons monitoring) in order to achieve better user experiences

By the way, Android is much simpler in terms of background mode :)

Q: What About Android? Does it have advantages?

The key difference here is that we have more control. From our last experience of scanning for beacons services every second (in background and with the screen off) for about 10 hours costs less than 1% battery life on Nexus 7HD.

So on Android we have total control over monitoring and ranging beacons whenever Bluetooth is ON. So we can notify user on the every stage without any interaction from him.

Q: What’s the secret to your success?

A: Our company name is Empatika which is based on word “empathy” – an ability to recognise emotions of other people. Empathy is highly
relevant in using this technology to work – you can’t just spam your users, you should use the previous behaviour and big data to determine
what kind of message to display to a person when s/he enters, is present at, and quits a particular region.

The secret is that we are not only developers and can measure beacons as a marketer as well. We should remember the technology life cycle: usually innovations are overestimated during first stages. And we see all this rush around beacons such as sporting events and mall navigation. But it can be extremely expensive to set beacon all over the stadium or at malls.

It’s just a technology that can help peoples solve problems cheaper than before. And we are focusing on these cases. For examples cafés
are not ready to send messages to everyone around. But they are ready to make a discount offer for loyal clients and teach them to buy not
only a coffee. So we have to integrate beacons with payment history of the users.

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And let us know – have you found similar stats for Bluetooth usage or battery comparisons for Android devices? Feel free to comment below.

9 Responses to “iBeacon: Is Bluetooth On? And Other Insights from Empatika”

  1. Why battery % on Nexus 7? I doubt any significant number of shoppers goes around with their tablet… . Can we have some battery stats for _phones_ please?

    May I also add that some beacons already allow simultaneous BLE connection and broadcast so they don’t become unavailable to others.

  2. “Apple takes a number of steps to help you turn on your Bluetooth”
    What steps are that? Would be great to learn more…

  3. Great info! This and several other reasons are why the iBeacon “pull” method is weak. The Smart Antenna from isignmedia.com “pushes” to both Bluetooth and WiFi with no application, so it always works with Android and iOS. For example, if you don’t have the app for the restaurant you are visiting, the beacon is useless. The Smart Antenna reaches outside the store to attract people into the restaurant. Beacons can’t do that!

  4. Hi Doug! Nice article. I found specially interesting your data on Bluetooth 4.0 Usage. I’m envolve in a project for installing beacons in some retails but usage here in Argentina seems to be very low (as low as 10%, from some small experiments I made). If you don’t mind I would to ask you a couple of questions. 1) Could you tell me were did you get that info (maybe I can find more up-to-date data or from another Latin-America country -safer to infer data from that-). 2) Is it hard to know how many of my app users have bluetooth turn on, as you did with yours? Thanks, Pablo.

  5. John Gordon

    Can anyone advise where I can possibly find some stats on bluetooth usage in Africa


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