Do iBeacons require an app?

Summary: For installations with regular beacons (an iBeacon is a type of beacon) then you cannot do much without an app, as you cannot interact with users (even after the additions from Eddystone). However, if you use smarter beacons which can also listen to signals rather than just send them, then it's possible to achieve some really clever things without needing an app.

Beacons cover a huge number of uses in many different verticals, but often generate the same questions. Whilst we have already gone into the differences between different technology offerings, such as WiFi, one area we get asked about frequently is the capability of beacons without an app.

Most beacons can only send out a signal to a phone and cannot listen to any signals coming back, hence the need for a phone to interpret and parse the beacon signals it hears – i.e. an app tells the phone what to do after hearing a beacon. The small exception is integrating with iOS Passbook, since Passbook then acts as the app, making information such as a boarding pass appear when a beacon is heard at the airport. However, the user still needs to actively save the information into Passbook, hence it is far from passive, and not a seamless user experience.

The general rule is that if you want to interact with a user, or give them some information, then you need an app, since otherwise you cannot display things on the phone. This means that many of the really exciting use cases, such as indoor positioning and navigation (plus any associated messaging for visitors/staff, such as those achieved via geofencing) need an app, and it’s not possible to get around this requirement. As a result of this, many businesses face a large challenge getting people to download their app. There are lots of solutions to this, but the two least intrusive are to provide real user value, or make a great and simple app (ideally both!).

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We have written a number of blog posts about what you can do with beacons and an app, especially indoor location, so won’t go into much detail this time. That said, there are many more uses cases on their way, as the technology continues to mature and integrate into other systems (payment processes are a great area of innovation).

Enter Smart Beacons

Another area where the technology is developing is smarter beacons, helping to bring in-store or in-venue experiences into the 21st century! So called ‘Smart’ beacons help create another form of indoor location technology, where Pointr can now help users or venues without needing to install an app (we imaginatively call it App-Free Analytics!). Use cases range from equipment or user tracking to queue management and process improvement, with smart buildings being another rapidly growing market (e.g. an office that automatically greets visitors, unlocks certain doors and sets up a meeting room to a user’s preference). These beacons have been made smarter with the ability to listen to smartphone activity nearby, and uploading this information to our servers, in addition to acting as standalone beacons. This helps Pointr understand which devices are nearby without requiring any active interaction with users or smartphone apps.

Pointr use this information to understand everything from visit frequency and duration to conversion rates between different areas and queue lengths, all of which are broken down by time and day. Because this information is anonymous* it prevents most privacy problems and is a really powerful addition to any venue or business that wants to understand how visitors or customers are interacting with their indoor space. These insights are critical, whether for a retail environment seeking to find the most popular parts of the store, or an airport looking to streamline the experience by offering users the clearest, most natural flow to their destination.

In conclusion, you are not bound by an app if using smarter beacons, as they add intelligence to the beacon platform. However you might be pleased to know that our app-based technology works in harmony with App-Free Analytics to deliver a complete experience able to understand everybody whilst interacting with those who want to use an app.

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* With user agreement, the data can be can be de-anonymized to provide a personalized experience.

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