More than 1,000 Bluetooth iBeacons were scattered across the Austin Convention Center for the Southwest-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference last month. SXSW partnered with mobile event platform company Eventbase to build “the largest beacon deployment ever done at an event,” in the words of Eventbase co-founder Ben West. The installed iBeacons used Bluetooth Low Energy technology to connect with SXSW attendees who have downloaded the SXSW Go app.
iBeacons are small devices that repeatedly transmit a unique location identifier through Bluetooth technology. The SXSW Go app notes the ID and transmits it back to a publisher or advertiser through cellular data or Wi-Fi, indicating the user’s exact location. For SXSW participants, iBeacons enabled them to receive updates regarding the conference, including latest updates on trending topics, speakers, and festival-related offers. Users who opted in to beacon alerts were also matched with attendees who share similar interests when they come within range of each other.
“SXSW is using beacons to propel smart networking by using proximity in a way that was not previously possible,” said Scott Wilcox, SXSW director of technology, in a report by Mashable. “Since SXSW takes place throughout the city, beacons are allowing us to use micro-locations and context in conjunction with attendee profiles to help people sync up in real-time.”
But not everyone was happy with the performance of iBeacons technology. One festival attendee said that she only got one message. However, she said that she remained out-of-touch for the most part because she turned off her Bluetooth, which drains her iPhone battery. Another participant said that she was unable to receive iBeacon messages because they were based on the Apple ecosystem.
Though smart beacons have already been in existence for a couple of years, it has so far gained limited traction due to its shortcomings. Pedro Aponte, founder of uDiscover, said, “iBeacon technology is still in its infancy. You have to get buy-in from your customers to download the app and keep their Bluetooth enabled or you won’t fulfill your mission of enhancing the customer experience.”
Furthermore, iBeacon notifications will only work if the user is looking for them. “You have to program highly contextual messages to make the most of the customer communication,” said Aponte. However, the biggest problem is the lack of iPhones, since the Apple-backed iBeacons technology currently only works with Apple software. Location marketing expert Theo Theodorou even went so far as saying that iBeacons, at present, is not yet a “mass market or mass media opportunity.”
Still, nobody doubts the potential of iBeacon to revolutionize marketing. Many web and mobile developers are already putting their bets on this technology, such as IT Craft, which has its own dedicated team of seasoned iPhone developers that focus on creating iOS-friendly apps, including those that use iBeacon technology. But before it lives up to its potential, it has to address its flaws first.
“Soon, you will see iBeacon technology everywhere,” Aponte said. “But it has to balance the information needs of the customer with the desire of the business to sell more. In the end, it’s all about the content.”
Written by Emma Cox