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Beacon buzz has been building since Apple first introduced iBeacons just two years ago. The potential to trigger location-based content and experiences on customers’ smartphone apps holds great appeal for marketers, and additional hardware vendors have jumped on board.

It’s no wonder why:

  • Juniper Research projects retailers will spend $670 million this year related to hardware and installation costs for beacons and RFID tags. By 2020, that figure will increase fourfold to an estimated $2.5 billion (yes, “b” for billion).
  • More than 1 million physical beacons are in the market already, and they are estimated to break the 400 million mark in five years.

So what are beacons and how are they being used to connect apps to the outside world?

Beacons 101

Beacons are inexpensive pieces of hardware that use Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to broadcast signals to nearby devices. Bluetooth-enabled smartphones or tablets within about 150 to 200 feet receive those signals, enabling people to receive notifications, special offers, discounts and more. Apple’s iBeacon technology was one of the earliest to market, followed by Gimbal and Google’s Eddystone.

Part of beacons’ draw are their size (small enough to attach to walls), relatively low cost and increasing availability.

However, some say turning on Bluetooth and location services drains your battery too much. Others say it’s a hassle to continuously keep apps open. Neither of these objections are going to hold back beacons’ adoption for very long.

It’s an App Mad World

We’re in an app mad world – living more and more in our favorite apps (hello Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!) and not our browsers. Is it really a big deal to enable Bluetooth and location services? In informal poll of my officemates, 90 percent all had Bluetooth and location services on, and multiple open apps.

And specific to the battery issue, raise your hand if you’d sacrifice just a little bit of battery life for an extra 25 percent off your next purchase delivered through a store’s app. Yeah, I’m right there with you.

I’m not the only one who thinks it’s worth it. Retailers, live events, and sports venues are all investing in beacons. They recognize we’re using apps to connect to the outside world, and want to be by our side (or in our pocket) with relevant content and customized experiences.

The Next Generation of Beacons

Though retailers originally eyed beacons for applications, we could finally be at the “tipping point” as more companies adopt beacons. For example, at SXSW 2015, 1,000 proximity beacons were placed in and around hundreds of SXSW venues. As part of the official SXSW GO app, thanks to beacons attendees could view other attendees nearby, and network by sending a quick message to those with similar interests. The app also had an “Around Me” feature that used beacons to provide notifications of what bands were playing, what films were being screened, or sessions about to start. Beacons even provided real-time audience engagement via the “Session Live” feature by asking attendees to join session chats or answer real-time polls.

Sure, beacons as we know it will continue to change. They’ll get “smarter” and more frictionless. For example, LISNR has created SmartTones that send data over audio and using existing speaker infrastructures as the “beacon.” As consumers benefit and continue to have amazing experiences, beacons will be just one of the ways apps are used to connect to the outside world in amazing ways.

Follow @LISNR for meaningful ideas to engage your audience through technology.

LISNR is a high frequency, inaudible technology; a new communication protocol that sends data over audio. As the leaders of the Internet of Sound, we use inaudible sound waves called SmartTones™, to transmit information.  LISNR essentially transmits customizable packets of data every second that enable proximity data transmission, second-screen functionality, authentication and low-fi device to deviceconnectivity on any LISNR enabled device.  We enable this functionality better and more efficiently than bluetooth (proximity), ACR (2nd Screen), and NFC/RFID (authentication). As an integrated software partner, LISNR can power devices to connect with world around better than ever before.