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A shot in the arm for beacon technology

Published on  21 July by Kevin O'Sullivan , Lead Architect, SITA Lab
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Google’s Eddystone confirms that beacons are here to stay

Now that Google, with last week’s introduction of Eddystone, has thrown its hat into the beacons ring, there’s been a lot of discussion (some of it overblown, in my opinion) as to what exactly it means for the world of beacon technology, the physical web, and life as we know it. I’ve heard everything from Eddystone harkens a new era of indoor mobile services to it’s just more hype for a fad soon to be a mite in the dustpan of history.

My take is it’s somewhere in between.

First, Eddystone is definitely a shot in the arm for beacon technology. It confirms that it’s here to stay. It isn’t just an Apple fad. What Google has done with Eddystone, basically, is to invite the other 80% of smartphone users to the party. Instead of courting just iPhone users, retailers can now reach the Android folks as well.

Beacon vendors will move to support both Apple and Google formats. There won’t be two sets of beacons in an airport or at the mall – this isn’t about doubling the number of beacons in the world, it’s about quadrupling the number of people who can be reached by them.

Second, Eddystone addresses one of the major issues with large-scale deployments – managing beacons – by providing a crowdsourced solution to tracking beacon health and location. This wasn’t possible with iBeacons. And with hundreds of beacons deployed throughout an airport, you can see the importance, for example, of knowing how much battery life is left in them.

This may have implications elsewhere in the air transport industry, too. If Eddystone can report on other environmental sensors (e.g. temperature or light), it can tell us the temperature of where it’s deployed. Onboard the aircraft, it can tell us if the air conditioning system is working or not. So we now have the ability to crowdsource the health of beacons themselves and potentially the area where the beacons are deployed.

But I don’t see Eddystone as the magic bullet that brings beacon technology into the mainstream overnight. Privacy concerns will continue to be a bugaboo for some. These concerns must be addressed by both the developers and the businesses that employ them. Joe Internet User may be okay with cookies on his desktop tracking him from website to website, but will he be okay with the same level of tracking in the real world? This requires a much more delicate business approach than do your typical online uses and offers. (An approach, frankly, that most retailers have yet to wrap their heads around.)

Just as importantly, neither does Eddystone change the need for the air transport industry to establish common-use beacons and standardizations for how they’re deployed. If anything, it underscores the need for the industry to get it right. This is why SITA’s Common-Use Beacon Registry will continue to push for common-use and industry-wide standards in the use and deployment of beacons – even as we embrace Eddystone and incorporate it into these standards.

One thing’s for sure: we’re at an interesting point in the evolution of beacon technology. Now that Google’s joined the fray, the business uses and their implications are more wide open than ever.

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