The Ultimate Guide to Working With Beacons Without 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 very similar — you get 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 want to push to your customers, employees or even family.

It's the approach we definitely recommend in most situations, especially if you're looking to scale quickly. 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 and without an app
  • Physical Web and Here & Now — what's the difference?
  • Content Management Systems
  • What should you choose?


Sending notifications with and without 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 welcoming restaurant guests in a very personalized way.

It can be achieved either through in-app notifications or through Google's Eddystone-URL. What's the difference?

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 it's 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.

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On the other hand, the packet named Eddystone-URL allows you to push very short messages to nearby users without an app. Google created its own Physical Web technology to take advantage of this and we improved it further by building Here & Now. Both give you tons of opportunities to reach customers who otherwise, for various reasons, wouldn't install a dedicated app. Both technologies are also very easy to implement and require no coding skills whatsoever. 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 (Physical Web) or links with short descriptions (Here & Now)
  • you cannot send push notifications. Instead, they will show up as silent notifications on Android and within a Chrome widget on iOS
  • 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 (two if you use both Physical Web and Here & Now at the same time)
  • the packets a beacon sends are first analyzed by Google and then displayed on user's devices. It doesn't affect the speed in any way but might stop some notifications from displaying (to e.g. prevent users from receiving too many notifications)

These are, unfortunately, the requirements introduced by Google when Physical Web was created in the first place. Despite those obstacles, we believe those solutions are also excellent ways to reach your customers. We'll now compare both of them but if you know by now that you need more than this, scroll down and see the CMSs compatible with beacons.


Physical Web and Here & Now — what's the difference?

The notifications in the Physical Web are sent in the form of links to users within a beacon's range.

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 those, you'll need to have Google Chrome browser installed on your device. Android phones come with Chrome pre-installed while in iOS you'll need to install it manually and add Chrome widget to your "Today" screen. You can read some more about Physical Web in this article.

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Here & Now is quite similar as it's based on Physical Web. As mentioned before, it allows for a bit longer notifications which, except links, will include a title and a brief description. On top of that, Here & Now allows you to track certain analytics as you distribute your links - you can track how many people saw your notifications and tapped on them as well as estimate the number of devices with BLE on passing through the beacon's range. What's more, you can instantly update the link through our Cloud without the need to connect to a beacon (something that you'll need to do if using Eddystone URL) and use both HTTP and HTTPS protocols. Read more about Here & Now here.

Here & Now can be configured only on iOS devices (both Android and iOS devices can receive the notifications, though!) and is only available with Location Beacons. Physical Web doesn't have these limitations but in direct comparison falls a bit behind its younger sibling. Give both a try and see which would work best for you.


Content Management Systems

Last but not least, some really smart people built platforms, commonly known as CMSs that allow you to easily create native apps for Android and iOS without hiring a developer. So if Physical Web and Here & Now don't really apply to you, consider trying one of those platforms. They're available for a fixed monthly/annual fee and you can get your apps up and running in no time.

General purpose CMSes:

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)

Industry specific CMSes:

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

Wisely — manage your restaurant with the help of beacons (from $200/month/location)

GuestDriven — build relationships with your hotel guests (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)

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What should you choose?

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

Go with Eddystone-URL if:

  • you want to reach as many people as possible in a given area
  • 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 support your business goals
  • or if you don't have any iOS device to enable Here & Now.

Go with Here & Now if Physical Web sounds great but you also need to:

  • add some text to your links
  • have an HTTP link to share
  • need analytics of your campaign.

Go with CMSes if:

  • you need to send push notifications to nearby devices
  • sending links and short text doesn't really help and you need more advanced features
  • 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 your own app after all if:

  • you couldn't find the right fit with the tools above you
  • you need more customizations and flexibility than what CMSes offer
  • you have (a) developer(s) or can hire some to build a solution for you
  • you need the ability to scale your solution and implement new features in the future.

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 an advice or some troubleshooting, give us a shout!

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