Will Bluetooth Low Energy technology change location-based marketing?

Two rather major pieces of news to happen this week regarding mobile marketing involve a new technology called Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE.

Bluetooth Low Energy is a technology that has been around for a while, but has only recently been updated to a modern bluetooth standard. BLE allows a mobile to be a sensor and signal, therefore connecting devices and beacons together in a meaningful way.

An important benefit of BLE is low energy consumption; in addition, it doesn’t require phone signal or throughput and therefore offers a better solution of location based communications in the majority of locations, especially for those places where phone signal is a challenge.

This differs from traditional geo-location which requires phone signal and good data throughput to offer a great experience. Coupled to this is the fact that the indoor resolution isn’t good enough and keeping it on at all times significantly reduces battery life.

Using BLE opens up a new whole dimension by creating a beacon around regions so your app can be alerted when users enter them: http://gigaom.com/2013/09/10/with-ibeacon-apple-is-going-to-dump-on-nfc-and-embrace-the-internet-of-things/

So who is utilising the technology? Apple and Payal have both released products utilising BLE and beacons.

Apple: iOS 7 and iBeacons.

Apple announced a new version of the iPhone operating system (iOS 7) and something that has somewhat slipped under the radar is the improvement to location capabilities using Bluetooth Low Energy technology. Apple is calling it iBeacons.

iBeacons manage utilised BLE to connect devices (or signals) together. So if a store/shop has a signal, it can sense your mobile phone and communicate with it. An iPhone running iOS 7 will be able to receive location-specific messages based on its proximity to a network of iBeacons. Therefore iBeacons enables very precise micro-location triggers for events in iOS 7 apps.

BLE technology is actually already in iPhone 4S and 5 as well as iPads, Mac computers and many high-end Androids. However, with iOS7 you can now develop apps to utilise the technology.

Also the iBeacon can run for up to two years on a single coin battery and it comes with accelerometer, flash memory, a powerful ARM processor and Bluetooth connectivity. Furthermore, you can add more sensors to iBeacon to provide better context.

There are many companies tapping into this technology; one in particular, called http://buyibeacons.com/, allows trigger based messages based on the proximity of a mobile device to a network of beacons.

iBeacons have the potential to disrupt location based messages and open up a world of new location apps – benefitting the marketer.

Paypal version.

Seemingly on the back of iOS 7, Paypal has released something similar called the PayPal Beacon: https://www.paypal-forward.com/mobile/paypal-beacon-finally-an-easier-way-to-pay-in-stores-than-swiping-a-credit-card/.

Paypal seem to be deliberately targeting the in store shopper, stating:

“new add-on technology for merchants that will enable consumers to pay at their favorite stores completely hands-free. Consumers will have full control of stores they will want to check in to, those they will want to get prompted to confirm payment for, and stores they will want to enable a complete hands-free experience for”.

Payal beacon is a piece of hardware that is integrated with the point of sale (POS), plugged into a powerpoint and allows a customer to pay for their shopping automatically using the Paypal app. PayPal Beacon won’t constantly track location like other technologies. If you enter a store and decline to check in, or just ignore the prompt entirely, no information is transmitted to PayPal or the merchant.

What does this mean for brands and mobile marketers?

BLE and beacons open a more efficient way to manage location based marketing, while making this technology more accessible to the masses. In theory you can use iBeacons anywhere with a power socket and network connection. For example, in store marketing and customer experience:

  • better location based marketing coverage and usage due to lower energy consumption
  • activate passbook coupons as soon as a customer walks into a store
  • auto payments so no need to queue at checkout
  • order and pay for your regular purchases for multiple visits
  • better security and user control due to better coverage and app control

Check in and tracking. BLT and beacons could potentially be used for areas that have traditionally been difficult, such as remote areas and areas that don’t need much maintenance:

  • Trails for walkers and climbers
  • Parks
  • Ski slopes

BLE is the answer to the internet of things, therefore cost and size are vitally important for consumer uptake and usage. Control your fridge, your thermostat, your television and many more household goods.

My beacon is on order!

*Picture courtesy of Gigaom

About Matt Hayes

I'm immersed in the mobile marketing world and the Co-Founder of Kickdynamic.com a live email content platform.

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