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Fun With iBeacon (andreamazz.github.io)
73 points by knowbody on July 9, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments

Been doing some iBeacon dev and deployments for about 8 months. The estimote hardware is just outrageously expensive compared to what you can source from China with little effort. As in, 3-4x the cost. If you're just doing simple BTLE proximity I don't know why you'd need a $30 beacon (I guess they have some other sensors built into their beacon as well?)...if you're making a toy, fine, but if your intent is to deploy thousands (or even dozens, really) of beacons it just doesn't make any sense. I suspect in a year's time generic hardware will be had at < 1/10th the price of an estimote.

Hi, this is Jakub, co-founder & ceo of Estimote. Yes, you are right - there are additional sensors into each Estimote Beacon like temperature & accelerometer. You can read more about them here: http://blog.estimote.com/post/87918401035/firmware-update-ac...

The challenge with cheap, Chinese beacons is that beacon deployments in general are site-specific at the moment. They require configuration, enabling security, calibration, etc.

We sell currently Dev Kits that consist of 3 beacons as well as free iOS & Android SDK, responsive support, 20K+ developers community portal, cloud-based fleet management tool and more.

Each beacon is in fact tiny computer with ARM processor, flash memory and sensors. Thanks to our iOS app you can configure range of the beacon, optimize battery life and security. We update our firmware on monthly-basis so even if you bought beacons 6 months ago you can download the latest version over-the-air and enable sensors and new tech and there is more to come soon.

We all agree that beacons will be everywhere in the future and deployed at scale. The fact is that beacons cost will be still tiny part of the budget dedicated to build the context-aware app. We have partnered with many companies like Knoll to build such apps (http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/17/estimote-knoll-partner-to-b...) and believe the value is in the underlying software delivered together with high quality hardware.

I appreciate what you guys are doing and get that you're here to make a profit etc but even now at this super early stage the market for beacon hardware is so competitive that you've totally priced yourself out for people like me. I'll be deploying >1000 beacons this year. Beacons take about 30 seconds to configure using a configuration app (of which there are many). The biggest cost in doing a deployment is literally transporting the thing to it's location and placing it. The hardware should cost next to nothing (which it will pretty soon). The real value, like you've said, is in the services running atop the hardware. Just my opinion... That said, I'm interested in hearing what a partnership looks like w/ you guys since, as I said, I am deploying many beacons this year and for the foreseeable future.

We're about a month away from releasing really inexpesnive iBeacons w/ sensors, ARM, etc. -- sub $10.

You can program them to do additional processing if you want. What's your email address? Would love to have you as part of our beta.

We are also working on these, target sub 10 euro, combined with high-voltage (230V in Europe) switch functionality. All this stuff is still way too expensive on the moment.

Very interested to learn more. Looking to make a purchase of about ~500 - 800 units in 2 months. otgilbert (at) gmail.com

I'd be interested to learn more as well ibeacon@formlabs.com

Could I get some more info on this as well? jar3737@gmail.com


Will you email me info pls? david at aisleup.com

Can you send me info as well plg at sixdoors

would also like to get in on this tashoecraft@gmail.com

ian.stanczyk at gmail


Thanks so much for discussing with us. We’d love to engage with you directly and get you a quote for larger 1,000 and up beacon quantities. I’m available at steve at estimote dot com. Estimote has been 100% focused on making the initial experience with developers easy and fast. As such we’re selling the hardware as a kit for $99. But we don’t charge that much for bulk beacon orders. The challenge with deploying 1,000 beacons is not the beacon cost as you point out – it’s in security, extensibility and all the elements of RAS that a networking protocol carries with it. In fact all of those are smaller parts of your overall cost, which is to build a mobile app and experience. We understand that. These deployments are much more similar to enterprise Wi-Fi in that regard – access points are a small percentage of the deployment of Wi-Fi. In fact, even one site deployment of beacons which needs to be switched out (say due to failure) would cost more than the beacons themselves. Which is why saving a few thousand dollars on beacons makes no sense. Trust me we’re tripling down on 100% fully integrated hw / sw in order to create the tools and end to end experience that developers need to be successful.

Maybe it's also worth looking into some of their competitors. I've bought some beacons from Kontakt.io as well as Onyx Beacon. They both had similar offering. For Onyx Beacon I also ordered 50 for an event we were doing since they had good pricing and they shipped it to us in one day.

I checked out your site - how come there's no tech specs page? This is good info to have, but it's still incomplete. I'm still wondering: how much flash memory? Can a mobile app send messages to the mote to write data, or are the motes read-only points of contact?

@Robert: there is 256K flash at the moment and there is two-way communication between phone and the beacon.

At the moment it is possible to connect to the beacon as an admin and change its UUID, major, minor, broadcasted power/range, give a name, access temperature, motion-sensor.

Technically it is also possible to store some information within the beacon, but just haven't enabled that for developers yet - how would you use it?

In theory beacons is there to deliver a context, e.g. context of your fridge in the kitchen, so you phone in the background can respond and process/store data.

How I could use the storage, based on the store scenario you presented on your site:

1) Customer service: every time a mote gets a ping from a customer, log it. If the customer pinged the area 2-3x, send a message asking if they would like a sales rep to help them.

2) Analytics: building on 1), collect the logged hits from the devices and learn how customers move through the store, who moved through it (i.e.: any customers registered on a loyalty program?)

3) Admin user uses an app to configure coupons to store on the devices.

4) Track stock levels. If I could store stock levels on the beacons, then I could build an app that can be used to make queries ("Where can I find Levi's 501 Jeans with a 36 waist, 36 length?" "Oh, we have one pair left, look here…")

Currently, the way you have to do these things now requires too many moving parts: a mobile app, the motes, and a web server for the mobile app to talk to. I believe the web server is unnecessary: if a user has data disabled, or if the store doesn't want to provide free wifi, then there's no way to facilitate these types of interactions.

Robert, I'm fairly certain that is not possible with any BLE system. Main obstacle is that a slave device, such as a beacon, can only be connected to a single master at a time to do things like stock look up or other things you've listed. So while customer A is connected, customer B can not connect. There is also security issue of customer A connecting and then leaving the connection open, denying access to customer B.

The way beacons work is turn the problem around. Your phone looks at the beacons that are near it, and make an educated guess as to it's location based on relative signal strengths and then go to a web app to fetch the data.

Beacons don't get a "ping" from the customer. They are, just like their name suggests, beacons. They send a ping out with their id for whoever wants to listen.

You can use passive BLE devices to listen for customer's BLE device, but only if those devices are in advertising mode which you'd have to put them into by an app running in the foreground. Usually stores use WiFi requests to track customers.

Thank you, bravo22. I appreciate the clarification - I obviously misunderstood the capabilities iBeacons offered. Kind of sad though, I think there's a huge opportunity in providing hyperlocal capabilities the way I described.

So let me check my understanding: what I'm seeing is that there are only two scenarios that make iBeacons useful:

* the mobile app has to have all possible beacon id's hard coded (or configurable by the user) and mapped to desired responses. The tradeoff is that any growth in the iBeacon network necessarily requires an app update.

* the mobile app has to function like a dumb terminal, receive a ping, then query a separate server asking what's special about that ping. This avoids updating the app, but adds a whole new point of failure to the system.

Thanks again for your response. very helpful.

You are correct. Think of iBeacons as kinda of like GPS. They feed you data, not the other way around. You can certainly have more advanced capabilities w/ BLE -- similar to what you suggested -- but you'd have the single master problem.

To comment on your understanding: The app doesn't need them hardcoded, it can query a server and say: here are the beacons I see, where am I?

Alternatively you can include location information in the data broadcast by the beacon. So one of them can say I'm at the end of isle 1, the other says I'm at the start of isle 1, and yet another says I'm at the end of isle 2. You can figure out your approximate position by their relative signal strengths. They can even have broadcast the exact GPS coordinates of where they are located (hardcoded in them of course) which if I recall correctly Apple can use to update their location service to give you very accurate positioning.

Bear in mind though that beacon data, unless encrypted, is public but even if encrypted it can be duplicated so someone can mess with you by creating a duplicate tag and placing it nearby.

http://www.dedeceblog.com/2014/06/13/knoll-pt-4-43-neocon-20... According to my understanding this allows beacons to analyze patterns. How could that be?

Not sure where in the article specifically you are referring to.

What I saw: "The software uses wireless beacon-driven technology that operates in tandem with smartphones based on a user’s micro-location to exchange data and information." "To help guide people through the r/evolution workplace showroom, Knoll employed Bounce by Knoll, a brand new mobile app that will push information to users as they encounter Bluetooth beacons positioned throughout the showroom." suggests that beacon broadcast an id, or position and the app uses that info to fetch data from the cloud relevant to the user's position, which is roughly triangulated from relative signal strength of each beacon.

They can analyze user's movement through the cloud.

One reason why people continue to use $30 beacons is marketing. The companies selling it for that much are clearly explaining what their tech is, and assures us that it works with iPhones.

For a lot of us (myself included), this is new stuff. Unlike you, we wouldn't have a clue what part to search for, nor could we be sure that whatever we do get is guaranteed to work. I've looked around, and this article is the first I found that clearly connected iBeacon to BTLE.

Even with that, I still have no idea what exactly I'd be looking for in a cheap iBeacon hotspot - would it be a BTLE chipset attached to an ARM? Do I need to install an OS? Should I look for something with an SD card?

Those aren't stupid questions - they're the questions anyone would ask if they're not sure where to start. So those $30 beacons start looking like a pretty good value now.

So you've been working on this for 8 months? Quit holding out on us and write something up! :) If the comments here are any indication, there's a need.

That's a valid point re marketing, education, support... I'll write something once we're a bit further along.

Hi there! When we take a look at customers interests in total cost of ownership (TCO) of iBeacons in a production environment, we find that they the purchase price of the beacon is never an issue if you explain why they should not buy cheap iBeacons. Here's a post with clear figures explaining the difference in TCO between beacons. http://www.marconilabs.com/?p=1214

Could you recommend other cheaper options which you have tried?

Great to see some more public development around the iBeacon. Yesterday, Panic, showed us their project for a "punch clock" system: http://www.panic.com/blog/punchclock-fun-with-ibeacons/

I am very excited to see where this development proceeds. The usefulness is somewhat like geofencing but for smaller areas and much more accurate since the range of the iBeacon is so small (vs GPS).

It'd be cool if Panic could clarify a point made in this article which states that delay of detecting whether or not the device has left a region is around 10-15 minutes. Seems like a sizable chunk of time for a clock-in-out app.

The article was pointing out that was one of the cons to iBeacon with iOS 7.0 but seems to have been upgraded to a few seconds in iOS 7.1 ... maybe panic requires iOS 7.1?

Based on our experience at Estimote entering the region is triggering iOS action much faster than leaving the region and this is how it works for iOS at the moment (probably phone battery optimization).

Entering region is super responsive (aprox. few seconds). Exit the region might take up to a minute+.

If you are building smart alarm-clock it is much better to detect if you entered the bathroom or kitchen than detecting if you left bedroom.

I recently read an article about a university using iBeacons to help fans navigate their way around stadiums, among other things. The possibilities for stuff like this are just really cool.


We curate a list of applications and case studies of beacon deployments: https://community.estimote.com/hc/en-us/sections/200364446-V...

There is fun stuff from quadrocopter 3d positioning till contact-less payments.

For Android people, there's a very good library here: http://developer.radiusnetworks.com/ibeacon/android/index.ht...

And here is an example of using it on Google Glass to trigger various experiences at Airport beacons like parking, security, and checkout that I wrote for a hackathon: https://github.com/lnanek/WearableTraveler

Some of the American Airlines employees at the event mentioned installing hundreds of iBeacon in a terminal, so you can expect them to actually be out in the wild.

So, if I build something using iBeacon, what do I for android users, laugh?

I am actually surprised that the Bluetooth consortium just lets Apple re-brand a very limited use of BLE. Namely sending an ID, not really such a feat... Let say it like this: If you buy a development kit from, say, Nordic, their example applications have more functionality.

Especially that Apple is licensing this technology, https://developer.apple.com/ibeacon/, is totally ridiculous! Moreover, they are patenting this kind of stuff: http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2014/05/apple-gr.... It's a sad world. I'm glad I've already demonstrable some code online: https://github.com/mrquincle/bluenet which dates from before these patents.

Hi, I'm the author of the blog post. We also developed an Android client using the Estimote open source SDK, we're planning to pubblish that on Github as well. Since iBeacon is just a fancy word for saying B4LE, Android devices that ship with Bluetooth 4 chips work just fine.

iBeacon is an Apple-defined BLE protocol - there's no reason you can't use it on Android, and we build apps that do exactly that.

Estimote has an android API that is very similar to their iOS implementation.


I think it's important (for everyone) to clarify that Beacon DevPacks (typically 3 Beacons, SDK, etc.) are different to Beacon Production Orders (I'd like 2000 beacons for my set of stores). Pricing for the former is generally around $20 or so per beacon, while the 1000's tend to drop off rapidly. Just my 2 cents. (Sean @localsocial)

Interesting discussion. If you're looking for a software platform that sits over your hardware you should check out Lighthouse: http://lighthousebeacon.com.au/ - allows you to control content delivery and includes advanced analytics.

we use these primarily but have used others including estimote since 2013...


less than 5 dollars each for series 10 and a security model that folks should seriously look into IMO...or u can use iBeacon configuration.

Originally by Qualcomm so u know the hardware is solid.

Does this only work from an iOS test device? Not from the simulator?

You can also simulate Estimote Beacons just by downloading the app from App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/estimote/id686915066?mt=8

Tap "beacons" and hit "turn this device into an iBeacon". Works for any BLE-enabled iDevice which is iPhone4S+

No, Apple dropped BLE support from the simulator with iOS 7. It was really quite flaky and quite cumbersome to set up, so mostly I just used the device any ways.

Yes, you need a device to test this out. You can emualte a beacon with your Mac (there's a link to the app on the blog post) and that's about it.

Does Apple sell any transmitters?

Not at the moment.

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