The new format war - beacons

A new battle is brewing, like Beta-max vs VHS or HD-DVD vs BluRay, this time Google and Apple are ducking it out. Launched in 2013, Apple’s iBeacon concept has been a huge success with companies springing up solely to develop iBeacon based solutions and hardware.

The idea is simple, a small Bluetooth transmitter sends a unique ID and when an app on the phone sees that ID the app does something. The most common use has been simply showing relevant ads when the user walks by the beacon, but there are many different applications ranging from ticketing to indoor positioning. Apple’s special iBeacon APIs also allow for some specific functionality not available through other means.

However, in typical Apple fashion the specification is not open to just anyone, but requires signing contracts with Apple and libraries implementing support for Android have even been forced to remove their iBeacon support.

Enter Eddystone

So this year Google stepped up and released an open specification for beacons to rival the iBeacon: Eddystone. In fact, they released three different beacon specifications under the Eddystone name, each to cater to different uses of beacons. Eddystone-URL is a beacon sending out a web address, allowing mobile browsers to present a suggestion for a relevant website to visit;  Eddystone-UID, the iBeacon alternative sending out a unique ID and finally Eddystone-TLM for sending out telemetry information such as a beacon’s battery level.

iBeacon has a strong foothold and is very unlikely to go away anytime soon. However the openness of Eddystone makes it appealing for companies that need to target both iOS and Android platforms.



Our take: Case Slush 2015

For Slush 2015 our focus was on good reliable indoor positioning for both iOS and Android for which we chose Eddystone.

The benefits to us of Eddystone over iBeacons is that the iBeacon interfaces on iOS and these interfaces filter out information that can be used to improve positioning accuracy. There’s also an additional authorization prompt when using iBeacon which the user must accept. 

With Eddystone we have the best possible positioning with as similar functionality as possible on both platforms. All with a brand new beacon specification and a minimum amount of fuss to the consumer.


What about the future, who will win?

Unlike the Beta-max vs VHS and similar wars, with beacons there can be more than one. Some beacon manufacturers have already implemented beacons which are alternating between sending iBeacon and Eddystone messages, and even our indoor positioning is capable of using either or both. It all comes down to some very minor details of balancing usability, battery life and accuracy. With more choices there are more opportunities in finding  a good balance. Our choice of Eddystone was not as much a technical one as a usability focused one. In the end this simply mean that there will be better experiences for the only true winner that matters: the user.