iBeacon extends Location Services in iOS devices that can alert apps when they get close to a location with an iBeacon. Apart from keeping a tab on location, an app can estimate how close you are to an iBeacon. The Apps get notified while entering a location that is defined as being close enough to a Bluetooth Low Energy beacon with a specific identifier. iOS devices detect BLE signal generated by iBeacon. In order to use iBeacon, you need an iOS compatible device such as iPhone 4s, iPad 3rd generation, iPad mini or iPod 5th generation or later, with iOS 7 and with the Bluetooth turned on.
iBeacons and the new iPhone
Applications once initialized run in background mode using BLE to trigger alerts that can be sent by the app when it detects a beacon from such a mode. These apps register a background service to pickup radio signals from BLE devices. There are three predefined zones in Core Location standard and they are the Immediate which is up to 20 cm, Near which extends to about 2m and Far that may reach up to 50 meters or further. This can be modified by manipulating the power.
Even as the developers were into iOS 4, they had the ability to define a geographical region and tracking a user’s movement across its boundaries. The present Core Location APIs has an array of tools that aid the developer to enhance the user’s experience by delivering location-specific content in mobile applications. This has been used by businesses to engage customers when they enter their premises on their mobile device. Even though this is a useful feature, the process of splitting and defining many regions and tracking the same over a large area is unwieldy.
In iOS 7, Apple has come out with the innovation with regards to the concept of iBeacons: circular, Bluetooth LE fields created by advertising a signal from any device with a Bluetooth profile that can be monitored using any iOS device (Supporting Bluetooth 4.0). The best feature of this API is that iBeacons allow monitoring without the need to define a fixed geographical location. As a result, now mobile services can use region monitoring to engage customers without having fixed coordinates because their beacons move when they do. This was made possible through several changes to the Core Location APIs.
Beacon-enabling a mobile App
The applications that are currently used in mobiles need to be at least marginally upgraded to be iBeacon-enabled. For instance several Mobile Apps are developed and used as of now to manage their loyalty-card, to receive discounts and coupons, which could be upgraded without much difficulty to also interact with iBeacons installed in the retailer’s stores. Apple has come out with a sample app called AirLocate, to reveal how easily it is to integrate iBeacon support into your existing apps.
GPS versus BLE positioning
iOS framework supports the concept of regions and notification which had relied on inaccurate positioning data( when used indoors) of GPS and Wi-Fi. However the Bluetooth LE-based positioning provides very accurate positioning data, when deployed indoors. The API offers the accuracy of a beacon, but should not be used to identify a precise location for the beacon. The accuracy and proximity are the properties of the beacon that helps us determine distance from the beacon; however the accuracy keeps changing constantly depending on interference. The closer you are to the beacon, the lesser would be the interference and more accurate the estimate of proximity becomes. Apple has provided the details of building the apps with which BLE mobile devices will work in the iOS7 software development kit.
Non intrusive to the customer
An interesting feature is when a user turns off Bluetooth; there is no way for core location to get notified of entering or leaving a beacon region. With the launch of iOS 7.1 in March 2014 iBeacon works even when the App is closed.