Can I use beacons if I'm not a developer?

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When you discover what beacons are about and find a use case that works for you, the flow is often this — you buy beacons, then start working on a demo (or find developers who can do it for you). Then you test a demo, iterate, test again, iterate, and finally you have an app and solution that you can push to your customers, employees, or even family.

It’s the approach we definitely recommend overall in most situations, especially if you're looking to scale quickly. Our beacons are built with developers in mind, and if you don’t have developer or engineering skills, you may have some hurdles to clear. In this article, we'll cover one less typical approach to working with beacons — the one that doesn't involve having developers on board.

 

Table of contents:

  • Sending notifications with an app
  • Content Management Systems
  • Physical Web, or: sending notifications without an app
  • What should you choose?

 

Sending notifications with an app

Most proximity campaigns rely on notifications pushed to user's smartphone or tablet. These can involve informing clients about promotions, educating museum visitors about nearby objects, or pushing specific content out about a trade show in strategic places.

In-app notifications, triggered by entering or exiting a beacon's range, are the only way to send push notifications to users' phones. Regardless if the app is open or not (even if its manually killed), a notification will show up on the screen once a user enters a beacon's range or leaves it. You can also set certain conditions for each notification to appear — e.g. display a specific advertisement only to females under 30 (given they provide that kind of details within the app) or to people who have previously visited a specific space (and interacted with the beacon placed there). Customization options are almost unlimited. In order to receive notifications, users will need to enable Bluetooth and mobile data connection on their device. We’ve built a Proximity SDK specifically for this use case, and have app templates available in the Cloud to make it easier than ever to hit the ground running. Check out the app templates… you may surprise yourself by how much you can pick up without a coding background.

 

Using ready-made software and services

If you’re really into the idea of working with an app but aren’t keen on starting from scratch, check this out! We have friends in high places at Estimote and have developed some fantastic partnerships over the years. Plenty of dedicated and smart people have already built beacon-friendly platforms that allow you to easily integrate beacons into your business. They're available for a fixed monthly/annual fee and you can get your apps up and running in no time, sometimes with the support of an expert team.

 

Industry specific software:

Cuseum — create a museum app and engage your visitors (individual pricing)

CrowdCompass — create great experiences for your event visitors (individual pricing)

Robin — book meeting rooms in your office (from $99/month)

Beecon — control your home and surroundings from an app ($8.99 one-time fee)

 

General purpose CMSes [Content Management Systems]: Create native apps for Android and iOS without the need to hire a developer!

Bleesk — easily create proximity campaigns of any kind for both Android and iOS (from $15/month)

PencilCase — allows you to take your designs and turn them into ready iOS app (from $25 monthly)

Rover — integrate your existing app with beacons and deploy updates from the browser (from $350 monthly)

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Physical Web

Lastly, the Eddystone-URL packet allows you to push very short messages to nearby users without an app, and in Android phones only. It gives you the opportunity to reach customers who otherwise wouldn't install a dedicated app. The tech is simple enough to implement and requires no coding skills. There are, however, certain limitations when it comes to the notifications themselves and the way they're displayed on users' devices:

  • you can only send links
  • you cannot send push notifications. Instead, they will show up as silent notifications on Android
  • you also cannot customize them, e.g. send them to people who meet the specific criteria or personalize them
  • you can send only one type of notification at a time
  • the packets a beacon sends are first analyzed by Google and then displayed on user's devices. It might stop some notifications from displaying (to e.g. prevent users from receiving too many notifications… particularly notifications that appear to be ads or coupons)

There are certain requirements for the links to work:

  • they need to have 17 bytes or less (in most cases you will need a URL-shortener)
  • they must be public (internal links requiring authentication won't work)
  • links must resolve to an HTTPS URL (HTTP links hidden under HTTPS shortener will work too)

The conditions for receiving notifications through Physical Web remain the same as in the case of in-app notifications (Bluetooth and Internet connection) but on top of these, you’ll need to keep in mind that only Android phones can receive these notifications.

These are, unfortunately, the requirements introduced by Google when Physical Web was created in the first place. Despite those obstacles, it’s the best way to reach your customers when you don’t want to build an app!

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A note on Here & Now: Here & Now is a legacy product that we developed on top of Eddystone URL to push notifications and help allow for an additional layer of tracking analytics. We’ve since retired support for this feature and are redirecting our clients to Google Nearby Notifications. However, if you've already tried Eddystone-URL notifications and plan a larger deployment of 500+ beacons, email us at sales@estimote.com and ask about deployment & fleet management tools for beacons and URLs.

 

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Which should you choose?

After going through all the options, you might still be wondering which is the best way to go. So here are the suggestions from our team:

Go with your own app if:

  • you need customization and flexibility
  • you have access to developers or the resources to hire someone to build a solution for you
  • you need the ability to scale your solution and implement new features in the future

Go with a readymade solution or CMS if:

  • you need to send push notifications to nearby devices
  • you don't have developers and expertise on how to build your own app
  • you're short on time and need to have a live app running soon
  • you found the features that work for your use case

Go with Eddystone-URL/Nearby if:

  • your target base won't install an app or the adoption rate will be very low
  • you want a quick solution which you can deploy within minutes
  • sharing links will be sufficient to support your business goals
  • pinging Android only phones will suit your needs

We certainly hope the comparisons in this article helped you figure out which solution works best for you. If you're still not sure, consider trying each of them and evaluating them down the road. If we can help with any advice or some troubleshooting, give us a shout!

 

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3 Comment(s)

  • Avatar
    Mark Stanton

    Android devices have the built-in Nearby Notification which support for the Physical Web was recently added to, allowing the beacon notifications to be used without the need for either a dedicated app or Chrome installed.

    Question:
    I'm looking to find out similar info as you've listed here, but pertaining to iBeacons. Is a write-up for that coming?

  • Avatar
    Mandy Phillips

    Im a bit confused - its my understanding that the latest version of Chrome on iOS no longer detects the Physical Web. If this facility is based on the Physical web I'm not sure how it will be detected on an iPhone without an app?

  • Avatar
    Piotr Malek

    @Mandy, you're right, Physical Web is no longer supported on iOS. We'll be revising this article very soon.

    @Mark, there's no such thing on iOS yet. We'll keep you updated if Apple introduces a similar feature.

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