iBeacon is Apple’s home product that is built on the Bluetooth Low Energy Technology (BLE) and works as a geo-positioning tool within indoor space. It is largely used for commercial application currently in retail outlets and exhibition centres for guiding visitors to kiosks, exhibits, special offers and to aisles where special offer products are placed. There is no limit to how the beacon technology can be used to convert a regular electronic appliance into a smart-appliance and its use is permeating the home space too, which Apple is pushing with the HomeKit on the soon-to-be-released iOS version 10.

iPhone app developers have identified a few challenges in working with iBeacon technology and we present a few predominant ones that have been highlighted.

1. Signal Issues

External radios transmit the signals between the beacon devices which is not a mature technology. The radio has to capture the waves from the iBeacon device and is greatly affected by the users. If the BLE spectrum is in the same vicinity of the Wi-Fi band, the signals interfere with one another. Apple does not manufacture the beacon hardware, and third party beacon device performance varies depending on device power, temperature and polling intervals. This leads to numerous signal issues for iBeacon applicaions.

2. Wi-Fi Triangulation for Tracking

iBeacon uses one way communication and hence it is unaware of the client device’s reception of broadcasts. In a range where there is more than one beacon, applications find it hard to decipher the range in which the user is. This complication can be avoided by using a combination of Wi-Fi triangulation and Bluetooth signals to get accurate user location. Another way to handle this scenario is to connect the app to a backend and update a record to register the user’s real-time presence, thus personalizing the app in real time.

3. iBeacon Acceptance

For iBeacon to work, a primary requisite is that the device should support iBeacon and second is that the user must have enabled Bluetooth and location service on his/her device. Further, they have to give permission for the app to access device location. The best way to handle this would be to send a push notification through the app requesting user permission to access their device and ensuring the user of data protection.

4. Getting Accepted for the AppStore

Getting AppStore permission for an iBeacon-based application includes some challenging process due to the sensitive nature of the technology, especially where user privacy is concerned. Following these steps will help –

  • State the purpose of the application and how the iBeacon technology will add value. A detailed description with review notes will be helpful
  • Add link to a demo video explaining the app use
  • A disclaimer about the battery use must be added as part of the description
  • Share details of a demo account and some beacon UUIDs in review notes

5. Feature relevance

iBeacon lets the application trace a user’s physical distance from a broadcasting beacon and then link the information to a real world context and send them relevant notifications. This way, the user will receive personalised information regarding specific offers, exhibits, and current conditions within the retail space among other things. The essence for success for iBeacon based application lies in sending subtle messages, one at a time so as not to overwhelm the user. Further, the user’s privacy must be protected as an external factor accessing their device to send personalised messages might create doubts amongst the users. Finally, the operations must be seamless so that the user isn’t suddenly left in a blank space due to signal issues.

iBeacon’s success in an application largely depends on its utility and continuous operations. Due to the reliance on third party hardware, signal issues may arise, but iPhone app developers can endeavour to overcome this drawback with some fine-tuning.