The technology behind location-based apps

One of the other-worldly features of mobile devices is their ability to track your exact location. Can you imagine the sordid stories throughout history that may have been re-written had this technology been invented sooner?  You can almost imagine the courtroom; “Where were you on the night of…”

Anyway, there are two main ways to collect and distribute this type of information in the present day – Beacons and Geofencing – and both have their advantages. More on this in a second. First, here’s why it’s important.

In a recent opinion piece Christian Carle, CEO and Co-founder of Pole Star stated the growing importance of location-based apps – more specifically, indoor location. He says:

“Indoor Location has become the holy grail of location based-marketing, bringing consumers from their home to the closest shopping mall or retailer, greeting them with a message as they enter the mall or the store, helping them navigate indoors, send product information and special promotions as they get closer, and finally allow them to pay for the items right from their mobile.”

And so if you want to develop, test and launch this type of app, you have two choices in terms of the technology behind the application. Let’s take a closer look at each…

Beacons are sent from your Bluetooth device based on longitude and latitude using the same technology as a typical GPS. Your proximity is distinctly pinpointed to inches, with an overall range of approximately 70 feet. Your mobile device requires an app that picks up another emitting beacon and the conversation begins. To some this may seem like hyper-targeting, but retailers are drawn to the ability of capturing market data based on your movements in a store. This same technology is also known as micro-fencing and you’ll see the similarities.

Geofencing, on the other hand, works off a much larger grid and brings this interactive conversation to the real-world geographical area. In this application you can create a targeted grid based on the geography of the area. A virtual perimeter is established and communication begins once the device crosses over the invisible fence of the perimeter. Once you cross that line your device begins the conversation. While effective on the planetary grid, the downside to geofencing comes from limited battery life. Consider some of these terms and options:

  • BLE – Stands for Bluetooth Low Energy and typical devices exhibit up to 3 years of battery life and of course, low emissions as well. Apps that are loaded maintain a presence for a longer period of time due to battery life and beacons are changeable based on season, target market, and target product.
  • Hyper-targeting – Highly detailed and precise location services provide the type of targeted marketing that retailers dream of, and look to the day when they guide you to select items only the items that you want.
  • Proximity ­– “Don’t stand so close to me,” may be the applicable catch phrase for this technology, but retailers want to know where you are and what you are looking for. There may be other benefits that go beyond retail as the markets and products      mature, including medical, education, hospitality, entertainment, and municipal organizations.

You may not welcome the buzzing in your pocket especially if it’s near a holiday, but the trend seems to be the direction the industry is heading. As the market matures and other organizations come to the table we may see a wide array of uses for this intriguing technology.

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