Apple has made iBeacon better with the release of iOS 7.1. But the changes in the consumer opt-in experience will will create new tensions in experience design that will challenge the entire market.
The improvements are game changers: not only will your app now ‘range’ for beacons even if it’s closed, but there are other noticeable improvements to responsiveness and various bugs have been fixed that caused all kinds of headaches for developers.
Proxima also notes a minor change but one that will be of particular interest to the wearables market:
The other is an inclusion of a new error type on a CoreBluetooth connection attempt, one that says the connection failed. That so little is exposed through the API diffs shows that a lot more is going on under the surface when it comes to iBeacon technology on iOS 7.1.
But these improvements also put a new pressure on developers: designing experiences just got harder, even though the iBeacon framework is more predictable and responsive.
Developers need to think even more carefully about how they want their users to perceive the experience of an app responding to beacons (about which we’ve written in the past).
But the real shift comes in how consumers can opt-in and out of push messages, location services and beacon ranging. In iOS 7.0 you could just close off the app and it would stop sending you messages. Now, the app doesn’t even need to be open or in the background to work.
This shift creates a new tension between retailers, between app developers, or between anyone developing location or proximity-based apps.
Call it the Prisoner’s Dilemma for the becosystem.
iOS 7.1 is Better for Developers, Harder for Users
The root cause of this dilemma lies in what we see as the difficulty for users in understanding the role and options for opting out of specific parts of an app’s experience. For a quick test, ask a “non techy” how to turn off local notifications or location tracking.
It isn’t so easy. An iBeacon-enabled app can rely on two different settings on a phone to work:
- Under settings>notification centre the ability to allow lock screen notices, badges and other alerts can be managed on a per app basis
- Under settings>privacy>location services (wow, three clicks!) you can manage location services on a universal or per app basis
So you have an app and it ranges for beacons, even if the app is closed. You walk past a store and it sends you an alert. What do you do?
I’d propose that most users won’t want to bother understanding the differences between the above two settings toggles. Instead, they’ll look for another, easier-to-manage culprit: Bluetooth itself, which can be instantly turned off from the Control Center – a single swipe, toggle Bluetooth off, and the app will stop pestering you.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Much like in game theory, the improvements to iBeacon have introduced something comparable to Prisoner’s Dilemma.
“Prisoner’s Dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so…
Because betraying a partner offers a greater reward than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads both of the prisoners to betray, when they would get a better reward if they both cooperated. In reality, humans display a systematic bias towards cooperative behavior in this and similar games, much more so than predicted by simple models of “rational” self-interested action” (Wikipedia)
The Prisoner’s Dilemma for iBeacon is that developers, retailers, brands and venues mutually benefit if experiences can be designed so that users aren’t tempted to turn Bluetooth off.
But just like in Prisoner’s Dilemma the rational choice is for retailers to betray each other, for app developers to make a rational choice of higher individual reward over collective good.
We all know that we need to deliver value to users and that if we collectively create great experiences then the entire industry will win.
But when it comes down to the decisions an individual coffee shop or shoe store or mall outlet makes, they’ll opt for more foot traffic, more customers, more sales – even though they risk turning off consumers because of perceived “spam”.
Look at it this way:
- Prisoner One is a clothing store. Customers only come in once every month, maybe. They put a beacon out front of their store and send messages to every customer who walks past.
- Prisoner Two is a coffee shop next door. Customers come in every day and the coffee shop sends them a free coupon every 5 times they visit.
Both stores benefit if the customer leaves Bluetooth on. But each store also benefits if they push a few more messages than they need to. And the combination doesn’t just lead to 5% of the users closing off Bluetooth because of a single app, it leads to 10% turning Bluetooth off because they didn’t want clothing messages at the coffee shop, and they didn’t want coffee messages while buying a new pair of jeans.
The Best Experience Wins
There’s no easy way out of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Even though we all benefit more if we work in our collective interests, we don’t work collectively – we work for individual brands or retailers or art galleries.
In the comments on yesterday’s post, Brian did an amazing job summarizing what we need to see next:
The success of iBeacon by retailers, marketers and other organizations that adopt it will be based on how it’s used. When a new enabling technology becomes available, marketers and businesses often deploy it without really thinking through the best potential use and approach to the customer. If a retailer deploys iBeacon to spam a customer as soon as they enter a store, it may hurt more than help.
On the other hand, if a retailer uses iBeacon to offer genuine help, customers will more likely embrace its use.
….My hunch is that we won’t see this happen very soon. It would mean upgrading the IT back end with marketing and merchandising systems. But if storefront retailers want to compete with Amazon, this is exactly the sort of experience they will need to create for their customers. iBeacon can help make this possible – if retailers see the light and move quickly.
Similar scenarios could be used for grocery shopping, museums, sports stadiums, hospitals, airports and more. Fingers crossed that this will happen. My hope is that a few years from now, Apple’s new creation will become mainstream and that we, the customer will be the better for it. What Apple has done with iBeacon is amazing. Let’s hope its end users (retailers) are equal to the task.
Share Your Thoughts
And let us know what you think – do we face a Prisoner’s Dilemma in the ‘becosystem’? What are the chances of a consumer backlash which sees a widespread shutting off of Bluetooth instead of app-specific changes to notifications and location tracking?