About beacons: distinctive features and practical applications

The news about Rite Aid deploying beacons in more than 4500 US stores has stirred up excitement once again as it celebrates a major achievement of their widespread adoption by businesses. By contrast, back in 2013, when Apple introduced the iBeacon technology, users greeted it with little enthusiasm.

They speculated it would be used for surveillance and collecting personal data. To put the record straight, the Local Search Organisation (LSO) and Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) published a guide explaining that beacons are merely one-way signal transmitters unless your smartphone has a corresponding app installed and Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) turned on. On the other hand, iBeacon is Apple’s technology that enables mobile apps (both iOS and Android) to detect signals from beacons and respond appropriately. iBeaconinsider reports, though, that beacons and iBeacons are often used interchangeably.

Since Apple does not sell beacons, you need to use other companies, e.g. Estimote and PayPal. PayPal allows customers to make hands free payments in stores that have their Beacon Bluetooth LE device. You focus on what you want to buy and the information appears on the screen and when you are ready to buy, the retailer charges your PayPal account. Estimote is supposedly the best beacons manufacturer as it has its own SDK, which makes easy integrating iBeacon functionality. However, not only regarding retailers, but also ibeacons in education, for instance were predicted. 


Bricks and mortar businesses greatly benefit from this novelty being aware what are practical applications of the technology. Thanks to the beacons, customers are provided with rich contextual information about each product: pricing, reviews, videos, photos and even social updates. They can be rewarded with a special bonus or voucher for visiting a certain part of the shop or taking the photo of a particular product and sharing it with friends in social network.


Given that you permit your smartphone to accept signals from the beacons in the vicinity, you get enhanced experience in a museum, at a sports event or in any public place. Visitors and spectators can receive notes in theatres or at concerts instead of paper programmes. What are distinctive features of beacons is clear, for instance, while you are watching a football match, beacons help you compare and contrast similar games or players, which would undoubtedly complement your experience.


Using iBeacon technology at airports, stations and undergrounds will enhance its credibility. Travellers will be able to navigate easier between the gates and platforms, get the information about  delays and changes in timetable. Passengers will not lose luggage or other belongings. When queuing to check-in, they can review offers from adjacent cafes, restaurants and shops.

Hotels can also advertise their services via beacons: when tourists pass by, they will receive information about rooms and facilities, review prices and learn about special offers and up to the minute discounts. Thus, the practical applications where Javascript is used, for example, are to be an attractive approach for developers to implement. 


Beacons are being used more and more for customer analytics – how people navigate inside the venue and where they spend most of the time, be it in a shop or at an exhibition.

According to the Automotive News, this year Detroit auto show will make use of beacons to promote the brands and communicate with the visitors directly through sending personalized messages and encouraging visitors to have test drives. This fact among others hints at the necessity of realizing how to write practical applications by developers.

Related: Mobile app: how to increase sales in ecommerce

Despite their seemingly extensive adoption, beacons in general and ibeacons by Apple in particular have not become mainstream yet as the developers face security issues. Businesses are hesitant to take up the technology because they are not certain it can boost sales or engage more buyers. They still need to be convinced it is not yet another over-hyped product that fails to live up to expectation

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