There are a lot of misunderstandings and myths around beacons. But the truth is beacons are pretty simple devices with very limited functionality. I’ll try to explain it in this article.
Let’s make a quick look at the very beginning. A beacon is NOT an idea invented by Apple. The term “beacon” means some 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 modern times.
The beacon we are talking about is a simple electronic device with Bluetooth Low Energy chip fitted on it. It has a micro antenna and is powered by a small battery (like in an ordinary wristwatch). It can also be powered by a power supply. Energy consumption of typical beacon is so low, however, that it can work on a single battery for several months. It can be enclosed in a fancy, colorful casing, or in a generic plastic box. To have a beacon you don’t even need a dedicated device because it’s possible to make the beacon just by running an appropriate application on your computer or a smartphone. Of course, this kind of use doesn’t normally make sense, however, such procedure is often used 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 information “Hello, here I am!” and within this information, it also tells its unique number: “Hello, here I am, and my number is 2369!”. This number is pre-programmed during the production process but can be changed in the implementation stage. What else? Hmm, nothing – this is all that beacons do: they announce their presence to the world. These small devices, attached to walls, doors, glass-cases in the museum, etc. only tell their id. Their power lies in the software running on the device that RECEIVES beacon’s signal. That 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 known beacon, it launches some action (i.e., it can send information to a server that you are nearby a particular beacon, or can play audio description, or can show an advertisement on phone’s screen, etc. – possibilities are endless). The application can also determine a distance from the beacon. Such measurements are not very accurate they can rather show you whether you are close (1-2m) or far away from the beacon.
So, what do beacon companies offer? Actually, they don’t sell only these simple electronic gadgets but give you a complete product: beacons and software to manage them. However, there is still one missing part – the application for end users. And if you need such app or custom-made solution based on beacons, you can always turn to the best software company on Earth – that is KISS digital :)