Mobile

Beyond retail: What’s next for indoor location tracking with Apple’s iBeacon

Image Credit: John Koetsier/VentureBeat

Nicholas Clark is Chief Technology Officer at DoubleDutch.

When Apple announced indoor location tracking technology for iOS 7, it was a retailer’s dream come true.

With the precise, low-cost indoor tracking technology of iBeacon and Bluetooth LE (low energy) devices, stores can now target appropriate shoppers by both interest and location, turning window-shopping into actual sales. Big brands are clamoring to take advantage of Apple’s functionality, but a host of different kinds of organizations can make use of the data to engage visitors in new ways and learn from their movement patterns.

Now that Apple can track your location more granularly than a blue dot on a street map, the broader potential of indoor location tracking falls into two categories — creating engagement channels that did not exist before, and replacing tasks or functions that previously had to be performed manually. Museums, expo halls, and educational institutions can radically improve their service by incorporating iBeacon for indoor location tracking.

Consider the potential engagement opportunities for museums and exposition halls. Both institutions rely on location-based information to give people the best experience; museum-goers want information about the exhibits they are seeing, while event attendees want to be alerted to nearby booths or sessions that relate to what they are interested in.

In the past, this kind of local information required special hardware (like the old audio playing devices people still rent at museums) or was simply impossible to provide. iBeacon makes these opportunities possible. By encouraging visitors to download an app developed with Bluetooth LE functionality, curators can amp up the learning experience by creating surveys and quizzes related to the exhibit you’re standing in front of, track which expositions attract the most foot traffic, and implement contests encouraging attendees to check out every room on a floor for instance.

Aside from driving engagement, iBeacon’s location technology can help ease the burden of keeping track of visitors to a location or attendees in a session. At conferences and meetings, trade show exhibitors could also use the tech to push out promotions to people who are near their booth and potentially tracking the time people spend lingering at their station, even scoring leads with this indoor location data.

Previously, this required tedious manual effort of check-in booths and attendance counting or relied on online activity that could not be validated by granular location data. iBeacon will eliminate the need for these activities.

Knowing who is near your booth is a nice-to-have function for event staff, but can also be a worthwhile tool for schools. Similar to its application at conferences and events, schools could use iBeacon to track attendance, and professors could also use the location-based technology to push out slides and content to students in their classrooms — only those who come to class get the notes. Outside the classroom, I could also see iBeacon augmenting job fairs and common spaces where student organizations set up shop.

Predictably, privacy will become an issue with this technology as is common with innovations (Google Glass anyone?), but the tangible advantages of iBeacon help mitigate concerns. I’d suggest that developers and brands make a clear opt-in process and overcome hesitations by being completely straightforward with customers about how their location information is used.

Despite privacy issues, iBeacon offers a powerful new source of data to app developers. Don’t be surprised if its indoor location functionality takes off in the next few months as iOS 7 adoption reaches critical mass.

At DoubleDutch, for one, we are already evaluating how to develop for iBeacon in our event apps. The requirements for establishing a viable system are very low — all you need are some well-placed beacons and an app that can integrate with Bluetooth LE. While retailers will certainly be the early adopters, expect to see more unexpected organizations betting on this technology very soon.

Nicholas Clark is Chief Technology Officer at DoubleDutch, a leading developer of mobile event applications that recently raised $10M in Series C funding. Before joining DoubleDutch Nick was a senior software engineer at Microsoft and founded MobileSrc, a software development firm.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Apple designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers. The company's best-known hardware products include the Macintosh line of computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple software includes t... read more »

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