A Complete Guide for Beacon Development & Integration

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Beacon technology has been gaining huge traction since Apple launched its pathbreaking Bluetooth iBeacon devices in 2013. In 2015, Google also announced its arrival in this newfound domain and launched its own Beacon devices. Beacon marketing was expected to drive more than $44 billion in retail sales.

Beacons offer easy deployment, highly cost-effective, and highly effective alternatives which help them become the most popular ways to enhance customer engagement across industries, especially in marketing and retails.

Beacon technology has spawned many start-ups and new beacon types in such a short span of time. Unlike other new technologies like Virtual reality and Augmented reality, beacons are known for not only their cost-effectiveness and utility, but they offer intuitive and innovative methods of end-customer engagement.

 

What is Beacon Technology

 

 

This is the reason why established organizations and small/medium level companies are adopting beacons with open arms and started reaping their benefits.

 

What is Beacon Technology?

Beacons are small devices that send Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals to mobile devices in their vicinity. The one-way signals then interact with a specific mobile application installed on the smartphone and then trigger a specific action, such as fetching information or location-based notifications.

It all started when Apple launched its iBeacon in 2013, it was a display of tracking technology and they installed it in 254 Apple Stores across the world. Impressed with the utility and overwhelming response towards the beacon, other vendors also started working on this idea.

In 2015, Google developed and launched its own Eddystone beacon based on its BLE beacon technology. Both Android and iOS users could interact with and receive messages sent via the iBeacon and Eddystone devices, respectively.

Marketers and Analysts across the board envisioned that beacons can be used in retail outlets, departmental stores, places of public interest, etc. It was realized that beacons would help retailers to identify and track customers once they visit the retail outlet, providing vital information to marketers about their purchase patter. The devices could even trigger a coupon to appear on the consumer’s device, turning a browser into a potential buyer.

 

How do Beacons work?

The beacon device is an incredibly simple device, which contains a CPU, batteries, and a radio. It functions by repeatedly broadcasting out an identifier. This identifier is then picked up by nearby smart devices like a mobile phone or other handheld gadgets and then it added an important place in the environment.

 

How do Beacons Development work

 

The identifier is nothing but a unique ID number, that any smartphone or handheld smart device can recognize as unique to the beacon. Once a Beacon is connected with a smart device it simply performs the function it has been coded to execute. We will go into more detail later to cover the most common functions beacon can perform.

 

Most Famous Beacon Protocol Types

Beacons have been developed by several vendors, and a couple of them are open source as well, which offer an opportunity to make changes according to our choice and requirements. We have the following Beacons available in the market.

 

Most Famous Beacon Protocol Types

 

iBeacon:

iBeacon was conceived and developed by Apple Inc. It was the first beacon protocol introduced. As expected, it gained immense popularity due to Apple’s promotion and ease of use, it is one of the widely supported beacons as well. iBeacon hardware device emits the signal which helps the iOS device to send an alert on the mobile app when it reaches or leaves the location which is in proximity with iBeacon. Beacon works as BLE has specific properties through which Apple iOS identify it as iBeacon. Examples are the Indoor positioning system, setting in the phone based on the location which shows the appropriate information of a place.

Eddystone:

Google developed and launched Eddystone, as its answer to Apple’s iBeacon. Initially, it was known as UriBeacon. It is known for its flexibility and it gained immense popularity as it works well with all Google products and devices. The physical web, which is introduced by Google, helps in enabling a device to broadcast a URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) which can be detected by mobile phones of users. This helps mobile users to access different interactive web services without installing any mobile application. The advantage of Uri Beacon is to make an easier way to discover and make use of nearby things.

AltBeacon:

It was conceived and developed by Radius Networks. It is known for its vendor independence as it is an open-source product, it offers a high degree of customization in the source code. This makes it quite popular among the vendors who opt for cost-effective beacon solutions.

GeoBeacon:

This open-source beacon protocol was developed by Tecno-World. It is an open-source solution equipped with 8 types of user data. It is highly flexible and can work with several mobile platforms.

 

Beacon Development company

 

 

Commonly used Beacon Devices

Though we can see beacons in many forms, however following are types of beacons we can see in day-to-day life.

USB Beacon

It is small, portable, convenient, and looks like a flash drive used for proximity solutions and asset tracking.

Standard Beacon

It is a small and highly portable device that works for indoor tracking purposes.

AI Beacon

This device utilizes a machine-learning algorithm to detects the movements of hands and gestures.

Small Beacon

It is small size use for asset tracking in logistics.

Sticker Beacon

It is a small type of beacon and it is a perfect solution for asset tracking. It could be pasted on any item and then could be tracked using a beacon application.

Dedicate Beacon

It is useful for tracking indoor activities and tracking.

 

Advantages of Beacon Devices

Cost-Effective-

Beacons are known for their cost-effectiveness. All the models are small and developed using low-cost materials like plastic to keep their overall cost under check. It makes beacons a more viable and cost-effective solution if we compare them with other state-of-the-art technologies.

Highly customized –

Beacon technology offers a highly customized environment. It allows organizations to provide personalized notifications and advertisements to their consumers.

Swift adoption –

Beacons are very easy and swift to deploy. For example, the USB beacons are extremely easy to install, just like a plug-n-play mouse installation. Even the scaled deployment is quite easy with the help of parent beacons.

Massive outreach –

Beacons are now used in many devices and gadgets. All modern smartphones with Android 4 or iOS operating system, support beacon technology. Hence it gives them a massive outreach to virtually every device.

Implementation at ease –

That is where beacons score big, majority of beacon technology products come with a dedicated software development kit and associated back-end management tools, which makes it extremely easy to implement and integrate it with the existing applications.

Scalable and Reliable-

Beacons are highly reliable devices, unlike GPS devices, they utilize Bluetooth, which ensures seamless connectivity behind thick walls or in underground areas. Beacons also offer high scalability without much cost involved.

 

beacon app development

 

Disadvantages of Beacons

Consumers may opt-out –

It is important to note that beacon-based solutions demand user consent before usage. Today, all smartphone users utilize multiple applications, which keep sending them a huge number of notifications. It is very much possible that consumers may opt out of beacon services due to content and notification overload. Certain consumers may simply turn off Bluetooth on their phones, which in turn disables the delivery of customized notifications and beacon-based experience.

Mobile application is a must –

Generally, a beacon can be utilized only via a mobile application, as beacons work only if they are paired with a mobile application. A consumer must install a specific application or a 3rd party alternative to utilizing the beacon services. Users may choose not to install an application or may uninstall it at any later stage to reduce the smartphone overhead.

 

Beacon mobile application development

 

Development of Beacon-based solution is not easy –

Though it seems easy developing a beacon-based solution is not that easy. We understand that the use cases of beacon-based solutions are simple and straightforward for retail, marketing, hotels, and other industries. However, to design and implement such solutions, we must hire a team of software developers with a proven track record in the development of beacon or geofencing solutions. It is a time taking exercise and involves initial cost along with regular maintenance cost at a later stage.

 

Beacon – Use Cases

Beacons are now used by many industries across the board. Mobile app development companies are taking it with utmost interest and implementing it to enhance their productivity and end-user experience. Here we have listed some of the most common business cases for Beacon Technology usage.

Navigation 

Beacons can be used for navigation quite easily. Beacons could be installed at strategically important locations and can help consumers navigate a specific area. Beacons also help physically challenged or blind people with navigation, so that they do not have to rely on any 3rd party.

Tracking

Beacons are developed on the basis of Location-based Technology (LOT), which is cost and energy-efficient in nature and could be used to track the resources easily. We can develop a beacon-based application, that can help us track any specific resource, an asset, a specific table in a restaurant, track kids and pets inside the house or at a public place.

tracking feature in Beacon app development

 

 

Interactive Tour

Beacons can be used at public places, historic places, museums, or exhibitions. Beacons can be installed and then visitors can access the necessary information about the monument via their Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, which can interact with the beacons via a specific mobile application. When visitors come close to any specific area or resource, the application will pop up a notification, that can provide visitors some pictures or videos about that item, that too in their selected language. For example, in a museum, if you are in front of a historic object, the beacon application can provide you some vital information about that specific stuff.

Automation 

Beacons are a big catalyst of any sort of automation, be it home automation, business automation or any industrial automation. We can use beacons to open or close a window or a door without even pressing any button. In offices, we can use beacons to ensure seamless and controlled entry exits for employees. Beacons can be used in several industries to automate their processes and activities.

Push-Driven Marketing

That was the initial usage of Beacon, as beacons help us advertise and interact with the consumer in a more productive method and push our services and products at a perfect time, perfect way, and at a perfect place. Beacons can help us pitch offers and important notifications to the consumers, and that may attract them to make some purchases.

Education Sector

Beacons can be used along with IoT (Internet of Things) to enhance educational experiences. We can develop beacon-based interactive games and an educational curriculum, that can help the students to learn complex concepts very easily.

 

How to create a Beacon Application?

Here, we will explain certain steps to develop a Beacon application in IntelliJ, that can be installed on desktops, Android and iOS phones, and gadgets. We can utilize the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) API to scan for beacons or broadcast beacons.

How to create a Beacon Application

Android Platform

We can develop the Beacon application for android platform using an android API, which offers a Bluetooth adapter and BLE scanner:


BluetoothAdapter adapter = BluetoothAdapter.getDefaultAdapter();

BluetoothLeScanner scanner = adapter.getBluetoothLeScanner();

scanner.startScan(new ScanCallback() {
	public void onScanResult(int callbackType, ScanResult result) {
		ScanRecord scanRecord = result.getScanRecord();
		// process scanRecord
	}
});
  1. Create a new project- We can create a new project and with the package name (com.samples.beacons) and change the name of the main class to Beacons. Then we can add the Beacon Views and Beacons and must select a Java Development Kit 11+ and an appropriate location for the project. Once the project is created, the main class will be visible. We can edit the FXML files with the help of Scene Builder, which includes several dependencies, which can help us design beacon mobile views.
  2. Beacons view- We must edit the beacons.fxml file with the help of Scene Builder, where we can remove unnecessary content and add a CharmListView control. Whenever a beacon is detected by the application, the BleService will return an instance of ScanDetection that offers the UUID, Major and Minor ID, RSSI, and proximity. In the BeaconsPresenter, we must add the CharmListView<ScanDetection, String> , which will help us display all the discovered beacons.
  3. Add discovery button-  Then we must add two buttons to Start and Stop the process of beacon discovery. Here it is important to make the changes in configuration to ensure we have a unique UUID of the group of devices with that same ID, while they are being scanned.
  4. Edit Beacon.fxml-  Here we must edit the beacon.fxml, and add the GridPane, which will populate some labels to show the beacon values. Here we will use circles, that will inform the application about its proximity (unknown, far, near, or immediate) with the beacon. Here we must add the required methods or functions we are expecting from the application.
  5. Configure the UUID-  We should create a separate class, named Settings, which contains the basic configuration settings for the beacon application. Here we have to pass the UUID string that will be scanned.
  6. Testing the App- Once the application is developed, the next important step is to test the application. We can run and perform the testing of the application on the desktop, both on Native Image and HotSpot.
    • HotSpot- We must run the beacon application on HotSpot before developing a Native image. We must run the developed application on HotSpot with JDK 11+. This will help us spot and fix the problems at early development stage itself. To run this application on HotSpot, we must follow the below steps
      • Open the Maven tool window, then click on Select Plugins, then JavaFX and then JavaFX:run
      • Or we can simply open a terminal and run: mvn JavaFX: run.
    • Native image- Here we have to open a terminal and then run: mvn client: build client:runOnce the application is executed, it will help us detect the flaws and bugs. However, if the application works just fine, then we can target the application for mobile OS platforms like iOS and Android.
  7. Run the Application – Now, we can plug an Android device and run the following command to execute the application.
    mvn -Pandroid client:package client:install client:run

Here it is important to note that, when we run this beacon application, the Bluetooth should be enabled, else a popup will ask you to enable it. The application will detect the beacon transmitter nearby. The beacon will be discovered and once we select that beacon, it will show its proximity with the device, and then we can perform further actions.

 

Beacon iOS Application Development

 

iOS Platform

Here we will explain few steps to develop beacon application on iOS platform. Here we need to know that iBeacon is a closed protocol. However, the iOS7+ versions provide a location framework to deal with several location services like Beacons and GPS. We must create a CLBeaconRegion object, which defines a type of region based on the device’s proximity to a specific Bluetooth beacon in the vicinity.

If the device detects a beacon in its range, it will use the startRangingBeaconsInRegion function to receive notifications. It will also keep a track of the device’s relative distance to the beacon. The device will receive these notifications via locationManager:didRangeBeacons:in region function, which usually returns an array of CLBeacon with the beacons in range, sorted by proximity. The application will generate a ScanDetection instance, by selecting the first value on that array, which can be passed over to a service callback.

It also offers the start broadcast method, which is used to capture the UUID, along with major and minor values of a specific beacon to start advertising a beacon.

(i) Use of Cordova iBeacon Plugin – The beacon application for iOS can be developed with HTML/JavaScript. For iBeacon functionality, we must use the Cordova-ibeacon plugin. To deploy the application, you can either use Evothings Viewer or develop a native application.

(ii) File index.html and App.js – We must use the File index.html file, which contains HTML data for the application. On the other hand, the App.js file contains the JavaScript code that initiates the iBeacon setup.

(iii) Tracking iBeacons – It is an important step, we must regions for the beacons. We have to incorporate the region information in the code, along with the ID used to identify the page associated with a specific Beacon.

(iv) Monitoring and Ranging – Now we have to develop the code for tracking beacons. There are two types of tracking for iBeacons, Monitoring, and Ranging.

 

beacon app development

 

Monitoring can be enabled by the startMonitoringForRegion method, which can track the entry and exit of regions. It can when the application is in the background or in the foreground, it offers a low update rate, and it does not provide proximity information.

Ranging can be enabled by the startRangingBeaconsInRegion method. It works only when the application is in the foreground, and it offers higher update rates, it also contains the proximity information (ProximityNear, ProximityImmediate, and ProximityFar).

(v) Usage of iBeacon Plugin API – To initialize the iBeacon plugin, we must use the object cordova.plugins.locationManager. In the following code, we are calling this function when Cordova is initialized and ready for use.


app.onDeviceReady = function(){

	// Specify a shortcut for the location manager that
	// has the iBeacon functions.

	window.locationManager = cordova.plugins.locationManager

	// Start tracking beacons!

	app.startScanForBeacons()
}

(vi) Responding to iBeacon events – In order to track monitoring and ranging events, we can use an object with a callback function, and we can utilize the plugin result object to return the information about the ranged beacon device. Examine the code in file app.js for further details. To enable logging, uncomment the console.log calls. Log output will be shown in the “Tools” window of Evothings Workbench.

(vii) Plug an iOS device and run the Application: Finally, we have to plug an iOS device and execute the Beacon application.
We can simply type this command – mvn -Pios client: link client: run

We also need to ensure that Bluetooth should be enabled for the smartphone. If not, then a pop-up will ask you to get it enabled. Initially, we must click on the start scanning button, a popup will ask you to enable location services. If we have a beacon transmitter nearby, it will be discovered, and once we select that beacon device, it will show its proximity.

 

How to Integrate Beacons

How to Integrate Beacons in Existing Projects?

We have covered the process of developing a Beacon application for both Android and iOS platforms. Now the question is, how can we integrate the WBeacon device with an existing project?

Here, we will explain the process of integrating the BLE beacons to offer proximity-based experiences in your existing applications. The following steps must be taken according to your planning to use the beacons in your existing project.

Interaction with the Physical Web –

The Physical Web offers seamless and quick interaction with beacons. We must broadcast Eddystone-URL frames to link our beacon with a single web page application. The browser (Chrome or others) can use the physical web to read these nearby notifications via a compressed URL. Here it is important to note that beacons configured via Eddystone-URL could not be registered in Google’s beacon registry.

Receiving Nearby Notifications –

We can add attachments to our beacons, and those attachments could be accesses as messages using beacon applications using Nearby Notifications and Nearby Messages. The best part here is, that we do not even need to install the beacon application on our devices. As the messages are stored in the cloud, we can make any changes and modifications to them without making any changes in the beacons themselves.

Integration with Google services –

It is an easy process to integrate beacons if they are registered with Google. The Google Places API can help us utilize the fields such as longitude and latitude coordinates, Google places ID, and indoor floor level as signals to enhance the location detection capabilities.

 

Beacon integration steps using Google Services

We can integrate the Beacon using Google services.

  1. Get the Beacons – You can approach Beacon partners to get Eddystone beacon hardware from several vendors like Blesh, Accent, Beacon Inside, Nordic, Minew, and Radius Network.
  2. Configure the beacons – We must do some configuration changes like frame type, power levels, and broadcast intervals before we can use beacons. We can utilize the software that is supplied by the beacon manufacturer.
  3. Register Beacons with Google – We must register the ownership of beacons with the Google Beacon Registry.
  4. Add an attachment – We can use one of the following options for adding attachments with beacons.
    1. Google Beacon Dashboard
    2. Beacon Tools app.
    3. Proximity Beacon API

 

hire Beacon app developers

Challenges with Beacon Integration

Beacon is the straight word but when we try to integrate with the application that might face some challenges. 

  1. Using protocols that are used by a beacon for communicating different types of the beacon-like WIFI beacon, Bluetooth beacon so with every beacon proper documentation is necessary therefore it is more challenging.
  2. Another challenge with beacon integration is extracting the necessary information from beacon signals.
  3. Maintain the beacon range and its management properly.

 

Conclusion

As we are aware Beacon is a small hardware device that transmits data to the mobile device for a specific range with different types of the beacon are available, every beacon has some different functionality.

Also, the beacon is a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) device that provides one-way communication and signals are available on the limited range in beacon signals that are dependent on hardware.

Bluetooth low energy is also helpful for delivery tracking apps. Beacon integration is the way of communication and with the help of integration we can communicate different users according to their current location also a beacon, integration is helpful for mobile applications with the help of beacon integration location tracking and personal messaging features are easily available.

It is not easy to gauge the popularity of beacon technology in the near future, as the technology is still relatively new and comes along with its fair share of setbacks. When it was launched it came with a lot of hype, fanfare, and promise, still, we can say that it did not take off as many expected.

However, the future looks promising as Google and several other vendors are planning to make the platform easier and agnostic for mobile app developers, and we are pretty much sure that more organizations will be adopting the Beacon technology in the future.

One of the biggest advantages beacons offers, that they are relatively inexpensive in comparison to other advanced technologies in the market. Hence it is easy for any small or large business to adopt it with very little cost and risk involved.

Here, it is important to understand that Beacons do offer an opportunity to understand your audience in a better way, complement and support the retails and marketing activities. It revolutionized the online-to-offline attribution modeling, enhanced user-focused proximity marketing, which made it the best technology solution one can vouch for.

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