A few weeks ago I wrote about beacons, and their potential to change the way we shop. Estimote, one of the beacon manufacturers I mentioned, has just come out with what they call “nearables”, little adhesive beacons. I love the name, very catchy, and also clever, in that it adds beacon functionality to the “wearables” (ie., clothes or jewellery with technology incorporated) that we’ve been hearing so much about.
To recap, beacons are small receivers and transmitters that you can stick practically anywhere. They connect with your smartphone, receiving information as to where you are, and transmitting location-specific messages: “Welcome to our restaurant”, “the shoes you’re standing in front of have matching handbags”, “at the end of this aisle we have a special offer on chocolate bars”… If you have previously logged into the system, they know who you are, possibly also your tastes and purchase history, and so can send you very specific marketing messages (“40% discount on your favourite apple juice, two aisles over”). Beacons can also help public places and retail establishments analyse human traffic patterns and, if necessary, change layouts.
The “sticking practically anywhere” just got even more so, with Estimote’s new adhesive beacons. They are smaller and lighter than the standard product, and therefore easier to hide. Although they look fun and edgy, so I’m not sure why you’d want to. Because they are smaller and therefore more mobile, the stickers include speed-detectors and temperature sensors. Stick the little shapes on your bicycle, a bottle of white wine and your cat’s collar, and your phone can log how fast you were going, when the bottle in the fridge is at the right temperature and where your cat is hiding. Stick one on your portable computer, and your phone will alert you if you leave it behind (ie. if it moves out of range). What to do if you leave your phone behind, that’s a different story.
Nearables are not so much a substitute for the larger beacons, which have a wider frequency range and longer battery life. They’re more of a complement. The larger version is designed to be static, while the stickers are for smaller, more portable or even mobile objects. The larger ones are location-specific, the smaller beacons are object-specific.
I’m currently writing about the impact of beacons in supermarkets, and how they are making grocery marketing more efficient and customer-sensitive. They are also making the shopping experience easier, which I think is very encouraging (I hate shopping). The launch of little mini beacon stickers (ready for shipping in October) is also exciting, and the repercussions will go much further than making retail business more profitable. Get your TV to talk to your ice-maker, invent interactive beacon-based games, make important things easier to find… I’m looking forward to seeing what the app developers come up with!