Two iBeacon Issues That Hinder Customer Experience Marketing

I’ve always been a fan of customer experience marketing (essentially giving someone an experience rather than trying to make them buy with a pushy sales approach, in the hope that your generosity and value offering will reward you with a sale in the future – kind of like karma).

And so I’ve been following the recent iBeacons trends with great interest. For those who don’t know, iBeacons are small hardware devices that give of pings every second or so, and can be picked up via mobile devices up to 30m (70ft) away.

Apple have embedded this technology into iOS7 and upwards, meaning that your marketing apps can become context aware. You now have the power to display content on a user’s mobile device, for example depending upon where in the store they are and what they are looking at.

iBeacons

Imagine walking into a department store, being prompted to open the store’s app, and there seeing a list of the top selling items which automatically updates as you walk from department to department. This is what iBeacons make possible.

Sure we’ve had NFC and GPS up until this point, but GPS is only really accurate to a few meters and performance suffers indoors, and NFC requires you to actively touch your phone to a reader.

So, all excited, I got hold of a couple of the little critters from Estimote and Jaalee and started developing a proof of concept iPhone app.

That’s when I ran into a few hurdles.

15 minutes of doom

The first is that if your app is backgrounded, or the phone is in sleep mode, it will only be woken up to check for the presence of iBeacons every 15 minutes.

The guys over at Radius Networks put together a great piece of analysis which describes this problem in detail.

In short it sucks, especially if you want to build an app that can deliver a notification to a user in their pocket when they walk past a beacon (think of walking past a coffee shop and receiving an alert for 20% off).

With the 15 minutes issue, chances of that shop’s beacon being detected as you walk past it is slim.

Loss of beacon bug

The second issue is that the current version of iOS (7.1.1 at the time of writing) appears to not always locate iBeacons in the vicinity. I’ve experienced this issue myself, and almost drove myself mad thinking my app wasn’t working, before deciding to Google it.

Turns out other people are experiencing the issues as well.

No comment from Apple yet, but the unofficial solution given is to restart your iPhone. I’ve found this sometimes works, but not always…And it is 100% a pain in the backside when testing.

What next?

The 15 minutes issue is understandable. Continually ranging for beacons is a drain on battery life and resource. Apple need to keep this under control as iPhones already suffer from relatively poor performance in this area.

Sadly it does cut out a whole lot of cool app ideas I had. No passive monitoring of a user as they browse a store for example.

As for the bug, I’m sure Apple will iron it out in the next minor update of iOS. In the meantime we have to hang tight, deal with the frustration, and carry on dreaming of what amazing customer experiences might look like when all the kinks get ironed out.

Ed Brocklebank is the founder of Metric Mogul, a digital analytics consultancy. He helps business of all sizes become more data-driven through marketing technology. He runs training for General Assembly London on Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.