What Beacons Really Are? | KISS digital

Adam Kubiczek

A co-founder and managing partner of KISS digital.

24 March 2017

What Beacons Really Are?

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There are many misconceptions and myths around beacons. But the truth is, beacons are pretty simple devices with limited functionality. And this is what I aim to explain, apart from defining beacons and beacon technology.

How to define beacons?

Let’s start from the very beginning. A beacon is NOT a technology invented by Apple. The term “beacon” means a device or building which was designed to attract attention to a specific location. Beacons are primarily used for navigation or defense communication purposes. You can still find the 16th-century beacon huts in England. But, let’s come back to beacon technology nowadays.

The beacon we are talking about is a simple electronic device with Bluetooth Low Energy chip. It has a micro antenna and is powered by a small battery (like an ordinary wristwatch). It can be also powered by a power supply. In any case, the energy consumption of a typical beacon is so low, that it can work on a single battery for several months.

Beacon technology - How does it work?

In order to set up a beacon, you don’t even need a dedicated device. It’s possible to make one just by running an appropriate application on your computer or a smartphone. Of course, this kind of use doesn’t really make sense but is often utilized by software developers for testing purposes.

All right, but what does a beacon do? Its role is pretty simple. Imagine a lighthouse. The beacon, like a lighthouse, sends an information saying “Hello, here I am!” - along with its unique number. This number is pre-programmed during the production process but can be changed in the implementation stage.

What else? Well, not much. Actually, this is all beacons do: they announce their presence to the world. These small devices, attached to the walls, doors, or glass-cases in museums, simply communicate their ID. The power, however, lies in the software running on the device that is supposed to receive beacon’s signal. And this is where all magic happens.

Typically, a device that receives beacon’s signal is a smartphone with a dedicated application installed on it. When the application receives a signal from a defined beacon, it triggers an action. For example, it sends an information to a server when you are close to a particular beacon, allowing you to hear a certain audio description, or see an advertisement on your device. The possibilities are endless. The application can also determine a distance from the beacon. Nonetheless, such measurements are not very accurate - they can rather show you whether you are close (1-2m) or far away from the beacon.

Trying beacons for yourself

Interested in beacons? You should! Normally, companies that deal with beacons do not only sell only these simple electronic gadgets but also give you a complete product: beacons and software to manage them. However, there is still one part missing – the application for end users. And if you need such an app or any custom-made solution to your beacon, you can always turn to the best software house in Kraków (and the whole world, to be fair).

Adam Kubiczek

A co-founder and managing partner of KISS digital. Has a long-term experience as a software developer and a team leader.