Launching this week, BeaconControl is an open source platform for managing proximity experiences using Bluetooth LE beacons.
It promises to help extend the stack of tools available to developers, organizations and brands and allow for more seamless integration with existing systems.
“The platform eliminates the need to focus on low level issues such as hardware integration, security and beacon deployment,” Marley Fabisiewicz, Founder of BeaconControl, tells me.
His Warsaw software agency Upnext has developed BeaconControl. The open source platform includes a suite of software tools which includes:
- SDKs for iOS and Android
- An open source Web management tools based on Ruby on Rails (with a RESTful API), and
- A free mobile app for beacon deployment and set up.
The company is partnering with Kontakt.io to provide the first “deep integration” with the physical beacon itself.
This allows developers and organizations to physically configure a Kontakt beacon and have that configuration link to the BeaconControl dashboard.
Why Beacon Management is Needed
When Apple launched support for Bluetooth LE proximity detection through its iBeacon specification (and accompanying iOS developer tools), brands and organizations often struggled to both understand and implement beacons into their mobile experiences:
- You needed beacons. Most of the beacons on the market came with back-end management systems. Some of those systems were required if you wanted to use that vendor’s beacon. Gimbal was an early example of a beacon company whose back-end system (while rich and robust) was what you were really buying when you bought one of their beacons.
- You could use third-party management systems. If you chose beacons that didn’t require that you use their management systems you could turn to one of the dozens of start-ups offering proximity management platforms.
- You could choose to build your own proximity management system. This could be a costly proposition. It came with the added challenge that the technology was relatively new, support for Android was still in its early days, and best practices for user experiences were yet to be established.
With Google announcing more robust support for proximity and beacon detection and putting their weight behind the Physical Web (through the open source Eddystone protocol), the management of beacons has become even more complex.
And while Google itself now offers a degree beacon fleet management services and basic tools for delivering content, a developer or business still needs to think about how their beacon infrastructure will support the end user experience across a myriad of devices – from Android phones to Apple Watch.
Building an Open Source Beacon Management Community
BeaconControl hopes to help accelerate the proximity industry by making its tools available under an open source license, and to encourage developers and engineers to support its development.
Fabisiewicz tells me that developer involvement will help build momentum for BeaconControl:
We have already entered great partnerships with the Silicon Allee campus in Berlin and the NewLab in New York City to develop sustainable, “technology enabled workspaces” based on BeaconControl. We are in talks with various startups and corporations who have expressed interest in BeaconControl. But at the moment we would love to see developers start using the platform and contribute to the movement.
Developers can check out the BeaconControl code on GitHub and contribute to improving the web-side management dashboard.
For the more technically-minded, Fabisiewicz explains the architecture:
The core stack is Ruby on Rails and that’s how it will stay in the future as we deeply believe in Ruby on Rails.
In terms of mobile integration we are already providing iOS SDK and Android SDK is coming soon, so the mobile mobile landscape is currently covered.
Beacon Control is designed with Service Oriented Architecture in mind, so that any technology stack can integrate it and use it through the REST APIs. Depending on community feedback, we will consider developing wrappers in other languages.
What Does It Mean for Businesses?
For organizations looking to deploy beacons, you need more than just a device. You need a way to manage the interactions that go with a beacon.
You can choose a beacon provider who has accompanying dashboard and management tools, but risk vendor lock-in. Or you can work with a “platform” (from Urban Airship to any of the dozens of proximity providers who specialize in the field).
These approaches have pros and cons: from cost efficiency and speed-to-market, to being able to rely on vendors whose sole purpose is often thinking about and developing for proximity.
But if you have the resources, or if you have the need to integrate proximity campaigns into existing systems, developing your own beacon solution has often seemed a viable approach.
Now, you’ll have the option of using an open source library to get your project started.
If it can involve a larger group of developers, BeaconControl could potentially become an emerging standard for proximity management.
With a new generation of sensors and beacons on the horizon, this open source approach can give the industry a leg-up on its ability to respond to technical change.
Its founder tells me that:
We are at the very beginning of proximity technology and we think that BeaconControl can evolve into a platform that supports various types of sensors in the future. Currently Mesh beacons are a very interesting technology, they can turn the current generation of location-broadcasting beacons into a two-way, Net-connected network. Generally we think that proximity technology has the potential to change the world, but it will take time and a lot of effort like with mobile payments.
BeaconControl might also be a sign of things to come. As the industry shakes out, more companies may choose to open source parts of their technology in order to focus on other areas: consulting, analytics or infrastructure management.
For Upnext, BeaconControl is the perfect fit for an agency that focuses on innovation and mobile experiences.
As Fabisiewicz tells me, BeaconControl opens up a range of possibilities for his company:
First and foremost, we are aiming to create a community that builds the physical web and the IOT. We are trying to give innovators and technologists a headstart with our platform. We will eventually make money by consulting with companies to integrate BeaconControl into their applications. We are also thinking of marketplace (like an app strore) for BeaconControl where the entire community can distribute their add-ons for BeaconControl and monetize them.
BeaconControl will help to kickstart new forms of innovation in the proximity industry and will attract developers who are inspired by working together to create new standards and best practices. It represents a milestone on the beacon industry and is, perhaps, a sign of things to come.
Share Your Thoughts
Is BeaconControl what you were waiting for? How do you think an open source proximity management platform will impact the industry? Will start-ups who sell proprietary solutions need to consider their own open source strategies? Drop a comment below, or pop me a note on Twitter.