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Apple capitalises on Bluetooth for micro-location

Posted: 13 Feb 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple  beacon  NFC  micro-location 

Near field communication (NFC) applies to RFID tags or stickers that can be embedded into product packaging to provide product-specific information and pricing, as well as hasten the check-out. While NFC involves bringing the devices into close proximity within a few centimetres for the wireless transfer of information, not all phones support NFC, the iPhones comprising the majority of NFC-less units.

QR codes printed on labels, posters or packages also engage with consumers. These matrix barcodes function as references that, when read by the camera, will open the phone's browser to the corresponding website or pull up specific marketing content.

But both NFC and QR codes require an action from the smartphone users who have to look for an identifiable logo to tap or scan. This is not intuitive and many would-be customers will miss the additional marketing package altogether.

According to Jakub Krzych, Co-Founder and CEO of Polish start-up Estimote, both NFC tags and QR codes ask too much from the end-user. "From a user-experience perspective, these technologies create too much friction," says Krzych who develops Bluetooth Smart-based beacons for retailers to implement micro-location marketing and couponing within stores.

Developed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), Bluetooth Smart is based on the Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy radio with additional general attributes-based profiles such as Find Me and Proximity to enable what Suke Jawanda, CMO of Bluetooth SIG describe as "the internet of my things."

"There is no reason to connect everything directly to the internet," explains Jawanda who sees power issues with such schemes.

Instead, you can have peripheral devices, appliances and beacons broadcast their ID and their distance to surrounding smartphones which are well connected to retrieve more information from the cloud. The new protocol stack also allows indoor real-time tracking. Triangulation and precise geo-location is worked out in software by the smartphone receiving the IDs from the nearest beacons. In comparison, GPS indoor dead-reckoning or WiFi-based geolocation alternatives are battery-draining for the smartphone user. In retail stores, establishing such a contextual communication channel with consumers ties up very well with Bluetooth-enabled mobile wallets.

"The story is not just about retail shops pushing messages to their visitors," emphasises Jawanda. "Some of our members develop Google Glasses for hospitals, which could directly display the information relative to a patient's history as they walk in the room. We also see many projects for museums to deliver contextual information and schools, where specific teaching aids could be pushed to the smartphones while limiting other cheatings."

Other scenarios include available parking spots messaging your phone as you drive by, or setting up beacons at home, so your smartphone could automatically turn on the lights as you arrive for example, or trigger other appliances based on what you've set up in your personalised app. It could even notify someone else.

Leveraging consumers' physical presence

"Despite all the e-commerce, these days, 95 per cent of all transactions happen in the physical world," stated Krzych, "and beacons offer a huge opportunity for retailers to bring not only a friction-less experience to consumers with coupons and key marketing messages, but also to get valuable data such as visit duration, the consumer's circuit inside the shop and the level of engagement with promotional messages. So a retailer could optimise prices, your price may be different from the price displayed on my phone based on our respective purchasing history."


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