Last year Apple quietly introduced a technology called iBeacon. Apple described iBeacon as an enhancement to location services and touted some retail benefits of the technology. As developers have started to understand the technology a vast new array of location aware applications are being enabled, many of these are making inroads in the enterprise computing space.
iBeacon is a very simple idea based around existing industry standard Bluetooth technology. Each iBeacon device is a simple Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmitter that broadcasts 3 unique identifying numbers. Any Android or iOS mobile device and a large number of PCs and MacBooks that support the Bluetooth 4.0 protocol can receive these broadcasts. They in turn can notify applications on the device of the presence of the iBeacon and the approximate distance to the iBeacon.
iBeacon devices themselves are very small and cost just a few dollars. Also they require no infrastructure or connectivity so they can be easily deployed in mass. Unlike Near Field Communications (NFC) which is a two-way protocol with very short broadcast distances (10 inches or less), iBeacon is a one-way technology that works similar to GPS technology which requires the end device to handle all computation and communications. Additionally iBeacon because is it based on Bluetooth 4.0 can have a range of up to 100m.
While many of the example uses of iBeacon have centered on the retail space, we are already hearing from our enterprise clients on how this technology can be a game changer in the enterprise space. One example of this a large energy company with workers who make rounds on facilities and need to enter data and notes from many locations throughout the day. By implementing low cost iBeacons on key pieces of equipment they are able to ensure that notes and data captured are entered properly and the correct piece of equipment has been identified. Further, they can use this technology for maintenance crews to retrieve detailed specifications and preventative maintenance schedules for individual values, gauges or other pieces of equipment. A second enterprise customer is considering the use of the technology to enable a smart campus where applications on a user’s phone could control lighting and audio-visual systems by simply opening an application that already knows exactly what room they are in on a multi-building campus.
It is clear that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with regards to how this technology will be used. It will be exciting to see how innovative companies use this low cost, standards based technology to change experiences for both customers and employees.