Since their introduction last fall with iOS 7 Beacons have been going gangbusters – here’s a quick top 5 of things to know about iBeacons

They are Here NOW

Major retails such as Walmart, Macys, and Safeway have rolled out functional pilot programs to many of their stores. This is not just pie in the sky technology but si something that is being rolled on and actively used. The use case for beacons does not stop with retailers and sporting events. Any time a their is a need to tie digital content to the physical world, when we have need to take action based on presence and position, it’s the internet of things come to life.

Small, affordable, and accessible to all

Beacons are small – ,from about the size of the quarter up to a the size of a playing card and larger. The prices range dramatically from $5 to few hundred – it really depends on how you plan on using the devices. A great place to wade in the beacon water is Gimbal’s series 10 – powered by a watch battery with an estimated life of 3 months the beacon is slightly larger than a quarter and sells for $5 each – three can be had for free just for the asking. as for compatibility – almost any Android phone made in the last two years will work, for iPhone you will need model 4s and up.

Mobile App Required

To make use of iBeacon technology a mobile application must be written, downloaded and installed. There are no shortage of manufacturers and each provides their own Software Development Kit (SDK) that allows App developers to interact with the beacons –  for the most part SDKs and beacons can be mixed and match provided the devices conform to the minimal iBeacon specification. Using the manufacturers SDK with their beacons typically provides access to additional functionality such as beacon battery level. The action an app takes – unlocking context specific content for example – is unique to that application and space and must be coded specifically for that use

One way communication

Beacons are simple devices – effectively Bluetooth lighthouses. They broadcast their presence up to ten times a second and that’s all they do. “I’m hear, I’m hear, I’m hear”. All the intelligence  is contained in the mobile application. This simplicity is to a large degree what enables a beacon to run for months on a watch battery. There is no circuitry required for listening or communicating and none of the associated power drain.

Auto Activation

Geo-fencing is the buzzword – simply put it’s the automatic starting of a location aware application by a phone when it encounters a given beacon. This is supported on both Android and iPhone. It means that we don’t have to remember to start the app when we enter a space – the phone can remind us. Functionality of the app may be limited when started in this mode (background mode) and it’s then the users choice to activate – allowing the app to fully interact with the space.