As I put this blog together, I do so knowing that I risk the ridicule of those who have gotten a lot farther in both understanding beacons and using them for some real-world value proposition. Though I understand transmitters of all types very well and I’ve covered other beacon-related initiatives (like Aerohive’s integration of beacons in APs ) and done my share of reading on how beacons are gaining in popularity as building blocks in a number of applications, I’ll admit to really not “getting” them yet to any technical depth. But that is starting to change, as I’ll tell you about here. And as an added bonus to you, I get to drop a few names of really smart people that I have the privilege of interacting with on occasion.
Awhile back, Ryan Adzima turned me on to a beacon giveaway that netted me three of these. Not being one to pass up free cool stuff , I got my beacons- and they ended up sitting on a shelf almost a year (I basically didn’t know what the hell to do with them.)
Fast Forward- Renewed Interest
I follow a lot of industry goings on as a freelance analyst. It’s no secret that Location-Based Services/Analytics is a running topic du jour in the tech media, and many a WLAN vendor has announced their own beacon story- like Aruba and Cisco’s Meraki. Knowing that there’s a lot of buzz around beacons, I worked them into my daily Twitter #WIFIQ question on June 4. The conversation that ensued reminded me that I was overdue to play with my Qualcomm beacons.
What sparked me to get back on the path that Ryan Adzima started me down was conversation with AccessAgility’s Zaib Kaleem and Extreme Networks’ Mike Leibovitz. Zaib turned me on to some beacon-related apps, and Mike triggered my interest on proximity to beacons being used as one component in banking authentication. Newly energized (see what I did there?), I busted out my Qualcomm Gimbals and got busy gettin’ busy.
Time to Play
Laying hands on my three neglected Gimbals first brought back the clueless feeling I had when I first looked at them and put them on the shelf. But this time I wasn’t content to stay in the dark. I took the bold step of cracking each one open and getting the watch battery connected, then I found the Gimbal Management App in the Apple app store.
At first, the App couldn’t see my beacons! Gotta be dead batteries, I thought… but then I went to the Gimbal Manager site, recovered my long-forgotten password, and figured out that I needed to activate each beacon.
I also needed to configure each and upgrade firmware, which was quite easy. (We’ll come back to the “configure” thing.) Bingo! They showed up in the iPhone app.
At this point, I realized/reminded myself of a few basic important facts:
- Until the beacons were added to my account online, they were dead to me despite being powered up. (Private is default, you can make them “public” so anyone can see them, btw.)
- My online account and my iOS account are synced for beacon management.
- The beacons report their battery strength and the ambient temperature, and the mobile app tells how strong each beacon is being received
- Though I now have three live beacons that can be managed, I still don’t know what to really do with them… no use case, no business application to hook them to, etc.
Knowing that beacons are all about proximity and location, I embarked on a simple exercise. Down a long hallway with three pictures hanging on the wall, I put one beacon on each picture frame, then watched my app show signal strength for each as I walked the hall.
This seemed like a reasonable way to see what might go on behind the scenes at the signal level on a walking tour, or in a retail environment where different app events are triggered by a customer coming close to a beacon. Here, this is the view as I transitioned from Beacon 1 and got close to Beacon 2, with Beacon 3 at farthest point down the hall.
Big deal, right? To me, it is. That’s because yesterday, I had ZERO first-hand working knowledge of beacons. With this these simple steps, I now get the technology and how it’s managed at a very, very basic level. I feel like I get the foundation, and I do understand many of the big use cases for beacons. It’s that middle ground of real-world implementation that I have yet to learn. Baby steps…
Back to the beacon config thing. For such a simple device, there are infinite permutations for what you can do with them. I think this is what is so hard to wrap your head around, especially given that along the line you may have to do some coding (or steal somebody else’s code). Zooming in on the menu gives a sense of just how many directions you might go bringing beacon-based use cases to life:
So… I now know a little, and know that I still don’t understand really USING beacons despite understanding the scenarios where they are employed. But with what little I now have touched and brought to life, I do understand links like this and this a bit better. Still a long way to go though, but ya gotta start somewhere!