Matt Rogers, Nest Labs Founder and VP of Engineering, sent an emphatic “All I Want for Christmas” message in October at the VERGE conference when he said: “We’ve built a connected smoke alarm and we’ve built a connected thermostat. So how do those products communicate interactively with other connected products in the home? Today there is no ‘One Way’ of doing things with interconnected products. There’s Zigbee, there’s Z-wave, there’s Wi-Fi, there’s Bluetooth. How does one even design for these markets? This year particularly some of these communication technologies should start to converge.”
Like an answer to Rogers ( and others), the market may be tipping in Bluetooth’s direction here at year’s end with Apple coyly weighing in via a relatively new iOS 7 feature, iBeacon. Notably, the proof case is not happening in the home first, but in high-profile metro retail spaces.
Field trials of the micro-location technology are being run at Macy’s in New York and San Francisco by Shopkick, a shopping rewards app developer. Shopkick has built a new retail experience whereby subscribed customers are pushed coupons and product news when they are physically browsing near featured items. This amounts to in-store customer engagement that rivals online. Shopkick leverages the Bluetooth-enabled smart phones that shoppers are already carrying around in their pockets and purses.
To parse out the components from this relatively new world of beacons, there is
- a beacon device. (For those that want the hardware details about coverage limitations, data capacity, power use and costs, check out this Gigaom article. You’ll also learn about associated cloud services for managing the device)
- a mobile app integrated with a ‘behind-the scenes’ platform for content management and analytics. (For those that want to better understand the challenges of security and enterprise-software integration, here’s a great article from Venture Beat.)
- and a developer community (As an Apple product, this is an iBeacon strong suit. Check out the developer kits already available from Estimote. You’ll learn more in this deep-dive interview with the founder of Estimote including a 60-second product demo. )
iBeacon certainly gives a boost to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) as the standard for personal area networks (PAN) in retail spaces. But, could it work for personalized lighting in office spaces too? The Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb is going head-to-head with the Philips Hue, touting BLE as a key differentiator. The concept of such bulbs transmitting their settings to an iBeacon device tied to an enterprise-grade energy efficiency management platform is not a big leap.
Regarding next moves by Nest Labs, Apple putting its weight behind BLE via iBeacon seems like the answer to Matt Rogers Christmas wish. This Techcrunch author goes even further in his speculations about the natural ties between the two companies. He also does a great job of explaining current IoT market dynamics.
This public debut of in-store location technology is getting a lot of notice by people that follow all forms of consumer behavior and gadget tech. The commercial building controls industry should take note too. iBeacon is a connected buildings technology with great potential to disrupt the status quo.