What are Beacons?

Back in September, our CEO at SavvyCard came into our R&D office and asked a simple question: “Who has heard of beacons?”


Now, it’s not often when a question like that leaves our team in silence. There’s generally someone who is familiar with any given technology in the mobile and web development industries, but this question had the team speechless.

What I’ve since learned is that beacons aren’t new — they’re just not common. Not yet, anyway.

What are “beacons?”

“Beacons” are simple Bluetooth devices that emit either a unique ID or URL, depending on how they’re programmed. There are many manufacturers, and there are two primary protocols used in the market today — Google’s open Eddystone format, and Apple’s proprietary iBeacon format — among some other lesser known protocols.

The main reason to use beacons is to provide physical context (e.g. location information) to user devices and applications. This means that applications can provide additional functionality to the users, as they are able to validate that the user is in a specific location at a specific time.

How can beacons be used?

Beacons are emerging as a hot technology in the mobile application space — and for good reason! It’s a simple tool that will allow application developers and marketers to change how users interact with their programs and brands, based on the user’s location.

This is extremely valuable, as it can allow developers to create rich, location-specific experiences for the user, right at the time that it’s needed.

Users can interact with beacons using either websites or native applications, but the functionality varies between the two. Below is a general breakdown on these two uses:

Use #1: Web Applications and Websites

Opportunities for using beacons in web applications are wide-reaching. Google, with their Physical Web project, identify several examples of how beacons can used to provide added functionality for web applications, by allowing users to interact directly with objects.

These examples work because beacons can be configured to transmit a web address. This can be picked up by Android users in their Nearby notifications, and by iOS users with Physical Web browsers installed.

At SavvyCard, our plan is to utilize this technology for proximity marketing in the real estate industry, in partnership with Verify Smart Corp. More will be announced on this topic soon, but we’re excited about the possibilities!

To test and measure how many people interact with beacons over time, I have placed a beacon in the tasting room at one of my personal marketing clients – Pinellas Ale Works – and will be tracking the inbound traffic to their site from this beacon. This is really interesting to me, as I’m curious how users will adopt this technology over time. I’ll report back some statistics on that usage in a future post.

Use #2: Native Applications

Native Android and iOS developers currently have access to greater levels of interactivity and functionality with beacons. Andriod developers have access to the Proximity Beacon API, while iOS developers have access to the iBeacon Core Location API.

Developers are using this to provide notifications to users when they arrive at a location, or walk by specific things. It can also be used to report back user location and beacon data back to the developers, for further use.

One of the more interesting uses of beacons that I’ve seen is by Facebook. They are now allowing advertisers to pay for ads by store visits generated. To do so, they’re providing beacons to businesses with physical storefronts. Store owners can affix these beacons at their entrance, and use this data for future advertising.

I have requested a Facebook beacon for two of my marketing clients, and will be testing how well this program works once I receive the beacons.

Looking to set up a proximity marketing program using beacons?

Please share what you’re planning on doing in the comments section, below. I’d love to hear from you, and learn about your planned use. Let me know why you think beacons will benefit your application or brand.

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