Is IBeacon the end of NFC?

As of December 2013, iOS 7 has been installed on 78% of supported devices. For GeoMoby, the most important part of iOS7 is that Apple unveiled iBeacon, a feature that uses Bluetooth 4.0, a location based technology [OK, multitasking was also great to see in the release notes :-) ]. This makes it possible for mobile devices to detect how close a phone is with a very high precision ( a few inches). This is opening the door for new exciting opportunities and services that could enhance the user experience and probably make our life easier!

There is now a huge opportunity for developers to build very cool location-based and context-aware applications!

GeoMoby, NFC and iBeacons

At GeoMoby, we also tested NFC (Near Field Communication) technology but we were also quite keen on testing iBeacons. To be short, NFC requires mobile users to tap their phone against a target whereas iBeacons can reach any users anywhere within 50m range (in reality a bit less depending on the environment ). Using the Bluetooth 4.0 (or Bluetooth Low Energy) protocol, iBeacon is a micro-location device that can be deployed within buildings and provides geofencing capabilities. Low-energy transmitters facilitate two-way communication with supported mobile devices that come within their range, allowing for accurate indoor navigation, automated retail services, customers statistics aggregation, in-store advertising… This could include not only use cases in stores, but also in museum displays, stadiums, gigs or even in the home.

Bluetooth is a wireless data channel that can handle much more bandwidth than a typical NFC interaction

One says that they could also represent Apple’s response to those who have wondered if the company would ever adopt Near Field Communications technology in iPhones.

Estimote Ibeacon

IBeacon from Estimote

However, NFC technology also offers the ability to bring location-based services to apps with tags that work up to 20 cm.

During a webinar that focused on the potential of NFC in mobile gaming, SmarTrac’s Mikko Nikkanen said there are “tens of NFC smartphone models available,” and suggested that the future is extremely bright for the technology despite recent noise around iBeacons.

NFC is incredibly precise and can be used jointly with your credit card. It works wirelessly and over what are typically very short ranges–such as the air gap between your NFC phone and a payment pad at a cash register in a store. For instance, the register taps the the mobile device over the NFC tags. The device detects the signals, and responds with the user’s payment data, and acts as a de facto authentication device.

Can NFC do geofencing?

Yes, but within 20cm of the tags… Not very handy. Except for automatic payments!

Can iBeacon/BLE be used with a payment system?

Yes! There’s a lot of potential for more sophisticated interactions between the payee and the merchant’s computer systems. For example, if you enter a store that’s equipped with an iBeacon device, your phone could then get an alert with the special offers of the day, a special coupon that’s tailored to your needs or direct you to the right part of a store to find a particular product.

Imagine now that you want to make a payment, there would be no need to swipe a card or even tap your phone against a tag to share your payment data, this can happen without you having to get your mobile device out of your pocket!

Indoor Geofencing Example

Indoor Geofencing Example

Which technology is the most affordable option?

I found a great example on Gigaom that demonstrates how NFC chips can become very expensive:

“Let’s go to Macy’s. The average area occupied by a Macy’s store is 175,000 square feet, which is 16,258 square meters. iBeacon’s range is 50 meters (typical Bluetooth range), or 2,500 square meters. So a typical Macy’s store would need 7 iBeacons.

Estimote, a company which just launched to sell beacons, is taking pre-orders at the price of $99 for 3 beacons. The range of Estimote’s beacons is 50 meters, but the recommended range is 10 meters. If you go with the recommendation, you need 1 Estimote beacon for every 100 square meters, which would cost you about $5,000. If Macy’s wanted to add NFC tags (each at 10 cents) to all its products to send information to phones, it would cost $1,000 for 10,000 products, $10,000 for 100,000 products and $100,000 for 1 million products. NFC may not be needed on all products, but this will give a rough idea on how much it could cost.”

Need a summary table?

IBeacon vs NFC - Comparison Table

IBeacon vs NFC – Comparison Table


What are we doing now?

Now, here is the fun part. We believe (for the reasons explained above) that iBeacon technology will be a major player in indoor geofencing so we must integrate this feature into our SDKs.

One can find a lot of documentation about how to integrate iBeacons into iPhone apps but very few for Android. With quite a few readings, reverse engineering and long hours of testing; here we go: we’ll be beta launching our new Android SDK integrating iBeacon capability by the end of this month (January 2014).

Stay tuned and contact us whether you need more info or test the new feature!

GeoMoby - Create a new iBeacon

GeoMoby – Create a new iBeacon

GeoMoby - Create an Alert with iBeacon

GeoMoby – Create an Alert with iBeacon


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