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PunchClock: Fun With iBeacons (panic.com)
126 points by macrael on July 8, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

I'm a little surprised that there isn't broader availability of iBeacons at this stage... I feel I should be able to walk into an Apple store and buy a 10-pack of them for some reasonable price.

Because standalone iBeacons to trigger geofences is not what I believe Apple intends to use them for. This is what Estimote is selling.

Sure the geofence triggering is kinda cool, but I've yet to see a practical use of it. Seems like "interactive museum tour" is the thing everyone keeps coming back to. If this is what Apple wanted to do with iBeacons, they would be selling them for a couple bucks in Apple Stores. But iBeacons aren't a consumer device. I think much more likely to see "iBeacon ready" hardware sold by Apple and other 3rd parties.

I think iBeacon protocol will become part of other devices, as a way to add proximity detection for the iPhone/apps that could interact with that device.

How about a DSLR camera that I can pair with by touching my iPhone to it? Creating ad-hoc multi-peer networks between devices by being near them. Play a game on your phone on a nearby TV without connecting to same WiFi. Or wearables knowing which other wearables are nearby. This kind of natural, "magical" interaction is very Apple.

> How about a DSLR camera that I can pair with by touching my iPhone to it?

Isn't it what NFC is for ? Except for Apple stubbornly deciding not to add it to the iPhone ?

My company, Radius Networks, does sell different hardware configurations as well as software to broadcast as a beacon.


I really love the USB powered model, especially for something like PunchClock. No batteries means no dead batteries.


We also released a number of open source projects that can help with projects like this. Including the ibeacon cli (if you are on a mac just `brew install ibeacon`), or if you want more than iOS check out the Android iBeacon Library (https://github.com/RadiusNetworks/android-ibeacon-service).

Sorry for the shameless plug!

I just bought your MacBeacon app the other day. Works like a charm, thanks!

I'm currently developing an app based on Gimbal: https://gimbal.com (made by Qualcomm).

My experience so far has been pretty good using their SDK (which works on iOS and Android) and their admin web interface, and the Gimbal devices themselves are not that expensive.

I'd be interested to hear the experiences of others using Gimbal..

I recently (Feb 2014) had the opportunity to evaluate different iBeacon hardware for a project.


* "ok" price

* horrible customer communication

* in reality to want to sell you their services and not the iBeacons.

* not configurable (proximity id, major, minor)

* really long shipping time to europe (4 weeks)


* "ok" price

* nice form factor (small)

* not really iBeacon compatible. They say you can flash their beacons to make them compatible, but i haven't found out how since their support is not responding.

* not configurable (proximity id, major, minor)


* good price

* great support

* major, minor configurable. proximity id not

* form factor kinda bulky

* they seem to be able to deliver huge amount of beacons


* great price

* great support

* nice form factor (same as stickNFind)

* fully configurable (proximity id, major, minor)

* the company is relatively young

Can't say anything about the battery life yet, but the batteries were replaceable in each case.

Here's another one that combines Arduino http://blog.onlycoin.com/posts/2013/10/3/coin-arduino-ble-de...

Read our blog post on iBeacon battery life http://www.marconilabs.com/ibeacon-battery-life-does-size-ma...

Best, Pieter

Awesome summary! Thanks!

Gimbal beacons have the suckiest battery life. The ones that I had expired after only two months of usage. Of course you can replace the battery (big plus) but the maintenance would be costly if deployed at a customer site.

For series 10, absolutely. Their series 20 seems to have better battery life (4 AA), but they need to "approve" you in order to purchase them... still yet to see one in the wild.

The Estimote beacons are the closest I've seen to this idea, but I would like to hear about more competitors.


I'd say Gimbal: https://gimbal.com is a main competitor (see my comment to the parent), but I'd also be interested in hearing about others.

Why would you? Any Bluetooth 4.0 supporting spec is a potential beacon. That makes roughly 400 mil devices sold.

For what it's worth, Gelo sells beacons in exactly this manner -- you can just buy 10 beacons, and they ship the same day you order them.


(Disclaimer : I work with the organization.)

This would be incredible to strap on to every middle-and-above management type in my company so I could get things signed off when I actually needed to

I'm interested in using this for home automation purposes. Accurate information about what room of the house I am in allows for the home automation interface to be greatly simplified by only showing options to control nearby items.

Wouldn't it make more sense if the nearby items themselves were broadcasting iBeacons? I think this is what Apple intends to do with the protocol.

It would certainly be useful but currently a lot of things don't have Bluetooth LE and are controlled via zigbee, z-wave, wifi, etc.. So knowing what room you are in is very useful in itself because it can help identify what target devices you may want to control.

We built something similar as open source with regular Bluetooth and WiFi sensors a while back: http://bergie.iki.fi/blog/smart-collaboration-space/

check out this also http://wifichat.linkstore.ru

Love this. We've been working on a version of this for the office at Robin (http://getrobin.com). Biggest challenge so far has been getting interop across Android and iOS. Beacons are reliable if you have a binary "are they or aren't they here?" but a bit harder to map to smaller rooms when certain Android devices register a signal difference of 4X depending on physical orientation -- that was a fun one to figure out.

I really like that design. We developed a similar idea a couple of weeks ago, when we received our Estimote beacons. Here you can find the blog post about it with the sources, albeit it's a simpler and rougher implementation: http://andreamazz.github.io/blog/2014/07/01/fun-with-ibeacon...

I've done quite a bit of iBeacon stuff including emulating them with Raspberry Pi's and writing an iOS app that measures the OS behavior against iBeacons. It's pretty interesting stuff, there are a couple of my beacon's I'm using to test iOS behaviors with that are buried in a New York city park near my place.

If you find one let me know.

I suppose I could write some of my findings up but I've been a bit busy...

Hm, geocaching TNG anyone?

Just like half of the other commenters, a team I was on built something similar at PennApps (a college hackathon) back in Februrary. It was a really fun project to work on.


We built similar stuff with Core Bluetooth (so, any Android phone is Ok): http://bdp.linkstore.ru

Panic always makes such beautiful and cool things.

we built an iBeacon app for a party we threw last Christmas. It was pretty cool, actually.. although Apple gave us a hassle accepting the app for whatever reason. Here's a write up.. http://objectlab.github.io

This is really awesome. I wish I had the skill to make something like this work.

So is there any plan for interop with non apple devices?

Is there anything close to standardized enough for non-Apple devices to implement this sort of functionality?

Theoretically, there's no reason you couldn't write a similar app for Android devices which support BLE[1] to reimplement this functionality, but Panic have only ever written for Apple devices.

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/18906988/what-is-the-ibea...

There is a open source iBeacon library for Android:


Decoding the iBeacon packets is quite easy, but you need a device that supports BLE. Currently there are only a handful of Android devices that support it.

No, because this is made by Panic, a company that only makes software for OS X and iOS.

Cool project.

I've always wondered what iBeacon offers, in most practical implementations, that latent wifi doesn't? If I wanted to do something similar on an Android device, for the purposes of conversation, I would register for the SCAN_RESULTS_AVAILABLE_ACTION event, and watch for the appearance or disappearance of SSID of APs that are interesting, and of course there are lots of utilities and tools that do exactly this (e.g. when I near home control these settings, etc). Ping a web service with updates, etc.

SSIDs can of course be cloned, just as iBeacons can. Neither are truths that they are what they say they are.

Walled garden answer: Apple doesn't let you write an app that wakes up when a SSID becomes visible, but you can write an iOS app that wakes up and does something when an iBeacon becomes visible.

Technological answer: iBeacons allow more selectivity and precision. You can be confident that a visible iBeacon is within 30ft or so, rather than 300+ft for WiFi, and with a little calibration you can measure the distance reasonably well. WiFi can tell you "the user is in [a section of] the building", while iBeacons can tell you "the user is standing in front of exhibit X".

Some of the WiFi management tools that I've seen can locate a devices to within a 4' radius based on triangulating the signal strength. There may be others that can bring it in to an even more detailed location.

The advantage of iBeacons, of course, is that you can do this cheaply.

The walled garden answer is strictly true, but moot in this case, since you could also use region monitoring to wake up your app, and that will use SSIDs indirectly.

>You can be confident that a visible iBeacon is within 30ft or so, rather than 300+ft for WiFi, and with a little calibration you can measure the distance reasonably well.

Doesn't BLE have a range of some 150 feet+? That doesn't differ much from the range of 802.11g. Both of them have amplitude that you can measure, from which you could guess at distance (especially if you're near the same source multiple times).

Of course a store isn't going to set up a bunch of APs to notify you when you're near a display, but aside from channel overlap and ugliness technically they could. And outside of the walled garden that you mentioned, it would be just as suitable for the role it filled in this application.

iBeacon includes the device transmitting a clabirated signal transmission strength in each packet so the phone can do a calculation against the RSSI and the power the device claims to transmit at. With this information you can be much more accurate then working with a WiFi where the goal is to be loud and get as much distance in as possible.

Except that EVERYTHING interferes with a low powered btle signal. Hold your phone with an unobstructed view of an ibeacon, then put almost anything between you and it, your rssi will drop like a stone. Especially bad when it's your body between the antenna and receiver.

'iBeacon' is great for very general and very localized location finding, but you're going to have a very hard time triangulating your location very precisely in say a department store.

You are quite correct, however Apple have very sensibly been very conservative in what accuracy of distance estimation they provide to apps. The only distance values provided are: CLProximityUnknown, CLProximityImmediate, CLProximityNear, CLProximityFar. These correlate reasonably well with the type of information that can be usefully derived from RSSI (i.e., you're next to the cash register, you're in/next to the shop, you're close to the shop).

Sure but those are also highly variable. I built a test installation in a retail environment using about 15 beacons setting up four different types of zones. One of which was an attempt to do a 'tap your phone here interaction' (CLProximityImmediate trigger). The Beacon for that interaction was behind a piece of foamcore.

Now I'm not a radio engineer, it may be that it was too many beacons for the area or the general wireless soup was high but it could sometimes take 20-30 seconds to see that beacon as immediate with your phone sitting smack dab on it. Sometimes 1sec. (iOS7.0 on both ipod touch 5thgen and iphone 5 devices) . Perhaps the filtering they use just needs to be tweaked a bit.

You could play games with it (www.inshadows.asia)

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