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iBeacon: Your New Real-Time Location-Based Marketing Friend

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Sure, everyone’s smart phone has GPS on it now, so phone companies, the government and certain brands can target users as they drive down an interstate highway or through a metropolitan neighborhood, but how good is GPS in a micro environment? Can real-time GPS data tell you if a customer is aisle 11 or aisle 12 of your typical big box retail store? No, it sure can’t, but do you know what can? iBeacon from RedBearLab.

A new goodie that comes with Apple’s iOS7’s upgrade, iBeacon allows brands and retailers to send data to smart phones over short distances (about 50 meters) and allows iOS7 users to navigate their way through large indoor spaces.

Some industry observers are already saying that iBeacon has enough market disruption mojo to kick near-field communication (NFC) to the curb for good. Until now, most mobile payment systems have been built on NFC platforms; iBeacon could change all that when it finally unlocks the long-prophesied “Internet of Things.”

So what is it, exactly? iBeacons are small battery-powered devices that emit a Bluetooth Low Energy signal, also known as “Bluetooth Smart” - it’s a signal that can identify returning customers or entice new customers, offer coupons to shoppers and passers-by, provide walking directions to a sale item’s exact store location, and even provide contactless payment using a user’s iOS7-powered iPhone, which is how it threatens NFC most directly.

So how is this new tech gadget getting put to use in the iBeacon 1.0 world? Some are already speculating how iBeacon apps could help blind people navigate interior spaces and cross-walks, help museum-goers better appreciate what’s in front of them... and provide some really exciting marketing opportunities.

Here’s a quick look at the vanguard of iBeacon apps and what’s around the corner:

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Major League Baseball

If you wanted to guarantee market penetration for a new technology platform, putting it into the hands of sports fans in every major American city for 2,430 games over 180 days sounds like a pretty good idea. That’s what MLB has in the works, if its experiment with iBeacon and BLE at the New York Mets’ Citi Field is any indication.

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Adomaly bills itself as the first iBeacon-based mobile ad network to reach customers in-store and at-shelf. It’s pitch is that it takes a smart phone user’s surroundings and internalizes onto that person’s phone, creating ads that reflect a consumer’s current environment, therefore increasing the effectiveness of those ads.

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This UK-based grocery chain has entered into the tablet market, selling underpriced “fondleslabs” to its customers for 60 GBP in Tesco “Club points” or 119 GPB in cash. Of course, the price of the Android-based tablets aren’t subsidized for no reason. Since the tablets are equipped with BLE technology, the assumption is that Tesco plans to use its tablets to send promotions to its shoppers in iBeacon-powered stores.


If a typical Macy’s is 170,000 square feet (16,258 square meters) and BLE’s range is 50 meters or 2,500 square meters, then a Macy’s will need seven BLE-powered iBeacons. (math via Gigaom). Who makes those iBeacons? Estimote. Watch this short video (1:18 minutes) to see what Estimote is up to.

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Yet another maker of iBeacons, the ones from Roximity are little white boxes with rounded edges, very Mac-looking. These little guys come in plug-in models and ones with a two-year battery life, and are built for large-scale deployments like sports arenas, malls and museums, but also for banks, hospitals and grocery retailers.


This Canadian company has found a quirk of iOS7’s iBeacon programming code that will permit user’s phones to talk back to iBeacons. Using this back door, ReelyActive can create apps where you can, for instance, enter in a shopping list for the phone to tell the iBeacon what you’re shopping for -- blue jeans or groceries or a mortgage -- and iBeacons would know to only serve you relevant ads.

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