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iBeacons: Putting Apps On The Map

iBeacons are taking the world of retail by storm. They got lost in the initial hullabaloo of iOS 7’s launch, when they were announced at Apple’s developer conference over the summer. But the enormous potential of this tiny gadget shouldn’t be underestimated.

iBeacons are low powered devices that use Bluetooth to interact with iPhones and iPads in the area. Powered by watch-type batteries, they can run for a year or more as a simple transmitter or beacon. They can interact with devices within a vicinity of 50 metres to send all kinds of alerts about apps or other products to your phone or tablet. Several apps or offers can be attached to each iBeacon, and the allocation can be altered remotely, as and when needed.

So how can we, as publishers, harness their power to boost sales?

The iBeacon can send notifications about special offers available at nearby shops, or within a certain area of the shop you’re already browsing. It can also function as an ‘unlocking device’ for the appropriate apps in the vicinity. For example, the Publishers Weekly app could be made freely available at the Frankfurt Book Fair, or Mslexia at a writers’ retreat, or Slightly Foxed within their charming bookshop, so it can be perused as you browse the shelves. Once you leave the area, the app would then remain available on your device so the option to buy an inapp subscription remains open.

iBeacons are a relatively cost-effective way to reach your existing customer base and to target a product’s key demographic based on their physical proximity.

One of the frequent complaints from publishers is that apps can easily get lost in the crowded marketplace of Apple’s App Store, and particularly in Newsstand. iBeacons are one way to combat this; by targeting those who are likely to be most interested in the areas they naturally congregate.

iBeacons have also been hailed as a potential solution to the problem of ‘showrooming’, that longstanding dirge of independent bookshops. By entering the nonfiction corner of a store, for example, the iBeacon could send an alert straight to your iPhone or iPad, letting you know about a special deal on nonfiction titles today, and/or taking you to the nonfiction section of the shop’s ebook store, to encourage conversions for those who prefer the ebook. It could even do something similar as you pass outside the shop to lure you in.

This could be a way for the ‘showrooms’ to reap the rewards of the final profit. Perhaps the convenience of matching up the physical product with its digital counterpart on the spot could help high street retailers bypass the discounted prices and delivery convenience of giant etailers like Amazon, as an alternative to bundling. Or perhaps a high street bookseller could simply use them as leverage to take a cut of the final transaction, to cut a deal with an online competitor on purchases made as a result of the iBeacon. That is, if your reasoning is that the shopper is looking for the cheapest deal.

It could also help bookshops compete with digital retailers by providing an extra source of data for physical shoppers, whose progress around the shop could be tracked and analysed in the same way digital conversions and bounce rates can.

Are there any disadvantages? From sending promotions straight to our personal devices to wearing a device that has the potential to advertise right in front of our eyes, developments like iBeacons and Google Glass do mean that the technology we use will increasingly permeate our daily lives. This raises questions about security, for both the network, and the devices involved. It’s also possible that iBeacons could help compound the dominance of companies like Apple, as its initial gatekeeper, although this depends on how (and by whom) they can be leveraged.

Exact Editions recently launched our first iBeacon installation for two of our apps at Bar Kick in Shoreditch, within kicking distance of the Silicon Roundabout. We will be rolling it out to other venues such as hotels, cafes, clubs, shops and trains over the next few weeks. For more info, take a peek at our blog, and our features in TechCrunch or the Guardian’s media blog.

Laura Swainbank is Communications Manager at Exact Editions and can be found tweeting here:


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