iBeacon and NFC - a powerful combination
Proximity marketing using technologies like QR codes and NFC smart tags is relatively well-established, but slow to mass adoption. However the development of Bluetooth low energy (BLE) iBeacons by technology giant Apple offers an exciting alternative with even greater potential.
And with the imminent release of the iPhone 6 and iOS8, rumour has it that Apple are about to take iBeaconsandNFC into the mainstream.
What is iBeacon technology?
With the release of BLE in the iPhone 5, Apple also quietly rolled out a technology they call iBeacon. BLE uses Bluetooth ‘beacons’ that consume considerably less power to communicate over a long range, typically 10 metres, with enabled mobile devices.
These beacons can then be used to send and receive information between devices, creating an added value experience for consumers and supplying businesses with valuable accompanying information about the shopper and their preferences.
Unlike NFC smart posters, iBeacon hotspots are connected, allowing them to provide two-way real time data transfer between mobile devices and backend systems. This then allows iBeacons to be much more than in-house advertising broadcast mechanisms.
GPS provides the basis for outstanding context-aware messaging based on location, but the technology does not work properly indoors. Strategically placed iBeacons however can provide an indoor navigation equivalent, guiding visitors around structures and ensuring they locate the product, service or information they want immediately.
iBeacon differs from NFC-based smart posters on two fronts:
- The iBeacon signal range is far greater than that of NFC, 10m+ against2-3cm.
- iBeacon provides two-way data transfer, allowing for real-time information to be pushed to customers, or collected from their mobile devices.
How will iBeacon technology change our lives?
Unlike NFC, Bluetooth has already been widely adopted by users. This alone should help boost adoption. There is however a burden on businesses to develop rich experiences that add value to the customer. Consider this test-case currently being trialled by EasyJet.
iBeacon as a navigation tool
The budget airline has installed iBeacons at strategic locations throughout several airports (Luton, Gatwick and Charles de Gaulle initially). As passengers pass one of the beacons, they receive a notification on their iPhone designed to speed up their journey, such as advising them when to ready tickets and boarding passes. The EasyJet app also allows flyers to navigate the terminal, finding the route from baggage drop and check-in desks to security and passport control.
For the EasyJet passenger, iBeacons provide a convenient way to navigate the complexities of an airport terminal – all the more valuable if they do not speak the native language of their airport destination. And by making the traveller’s journey smoother, EasyJet can streamline their own operations whilst creating satisfied customers.
The same principles will work in any scenario where customers or visitors would benefit from having additional information instantly available, or there is a way to enhance their experience with additional content as is happening with the LabWerk museum platform.
iBeacon as a sales tool
iBeacons also offer marketers new tools with which to better engage in-store consumers. The navigation technology can be twinned with intelligent smartphone apps for instance, allowing users to pre-plan their shopping journey and then be guided to each department or shelf as required.
The iBeacon can also be used to transmit coupons or vouchers to shoppers as they pass, advising of special offers or better still, providing personalised discounts on new products.
Again, iBeacon speeds up the shopping process to make the experience more enjoyable for shoppers and helps businesses increase footfall through their stores. In store iBeacons can also be used to collect additional information from shoppers, such as “linger time” – the amount of time consumers spend browsing – which can then be used to inform future sales and marketing efforts.
Moving into the future
There has been much speculation about the iPhone 6 using NFC technology to facilitate credit card payments using the smartphone handset; many of the rumours surrounding Apple’s discussions with major credit card providers seem quite credible, pointing to this potential new development. With NFC functionality available on the iPhone, it could be that smart posters and proximity marketing could finally receive the boost they need to break into mainstream use.
Businesses already using NFC smart tags in store may benefit from replacing them with iBeacon technology, helping to extend the physical reach of their message, whilst being able to provide an even richer experience for customers. iBeacon has the added benefit of being relatively cheap to install and manage, allowing for even greater personalisation of the information delivered to (and collected from) customers. And it is this two-way data collection which will prove the greatest value from making the switch.
Combining NFC with iBeacons in the new iPhone 6 will offer consumers and retailers a better experience. Using iBeacons, shoppers can be directed around stores, before checking out using in-built NFC payment technology. Retailers can accurately target offers and promotions at customers, as well as gaining additional metrics from the way they interact with in store iBeacons and NFC smart tags. Finally Apple will help establish themselves in the high street by controlling the entire ecosystem which underpins the NFC/iBeacon experience.
September 9th – when the new iPhone 6 launches - could be the day on which retailing and mobile technology takes the next giant step forward.