Getting started with Estimote beacons and APIs

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So, you’ve just heard about beacons and contextual computing and want to jump in? Welcome! Below you’ll find advice to get you on the right track and resources to further help you with developing your beacon-based projects.

You’ll learn:

Beacons, stickers, video: what’s the difference?

We offer five types of hardware products:

  • Estimote Location Beacons; devkit with three units is priced at $99
  • Estimote Proximity Beacons; devkit with three units is priced at $59
  • Estimote Stickers; devkit with 10 units is priced at $99
  • Estimote Location Beacon with UWB; devkit with four units is priced at $159
  • Estimote Mirror; devkit with three units is $99 (pre-order)

Check the detailed breakdown of differences on our product comparison page.

Estimote Beacons offer up to seven years of battery life and have a range of up to 200 meters. They are designed to attach them to fixed points in venues to provide apps with location context.  

Estimote Proximity Beacons are designed to tag different points in venues and provide apps with specific proximity context when in the "marked" area. 

Estimote Location Beacons power the equivalent of the GPS for indoors - Estimote Indoor Location. They are used to map indoor spaces to later enable position and navigation integration into apps. 

Compared to Proximity Beacons, Location Beacons offer Indoor Location support, longer battery life and range, multiple data packets broadcasting, and GPIO support. They cover all the proximity functionalities but are suited better for Indoor Location. Learn which beacon will suit your use case better with our intro to Proximity versus Location.

Stickers are much smaller, but that also comes with shorter battery life (up to a year) and range. The idea behind stickers is to create nearables: smart objects broadcasting data about their location, motion, and environment. Just attach a sticker to an item and to turn it into a nearable. You can also search for nearables using Estimote Indoor Location. It’s like Google for the physical world!

 

Mirror, our video beacon, allows users to interact with any video screen. Content can be based on multiple sources including mobile phones, beacons, and Web APIs. Mirror doesn’t need the user to have an app on their phone - by using Estimote’s other beacon products attached to any object you can transform it to a “smart object” that triggers the nearby screens.

 

What do I choose?

That’s a tricky one. Think about your use case:

  • If you want an app aware of where the user is (e.g. store, museum, restaurant), go with beacons;
  • if you want an app aware of what the user interacts with (e.g. a dog, an item on display, a fridge in the kitchen), go with stickers;
  • If you want your users to interact with TV screens and displays, go with Mirror;
  • If you don’t know yet what you’re going to build and just want to test the technology, go with beacons: they’re easier to pick up.

Estimote products usually ship within one week. Note that Mirror is currently in pre-order status, and will ship in Q3/Q4 2017. Everything is also available in bulk quantities (contact our Business team directly if this is your goal!)

To order our products, just visit https://estimote.com/products/

Do Estimote products require an app?

For the best experience, an app is required to detect beacons and trigger interactions with them. Beacons only broadcast tiny data packets that can contain their IDs, sensor readings, or URL addresses. In any case, it’s the app that has to ‘interpret’ this data and launch specific actions. What these actions are is entirely up to you. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can find a list of almost 100 apps created with Estimote Beacons right here: Apps and projects with Estimote

Alternatively, you can use Here& Now to broadcast URLs instead of beacon IDs without the need for an app. Here & Now allows you to use the Physical Web to broadcast short messages to devices with the Physical Web protocol enabled. You're able to specify a link, its title, and its description, and track the clicks, impressions and foot traffic around the beacon. Read more about it here.

Do I need to be a developer?

Estimote products are designed with developers in mind. However, there are third-party tools that make it possible for non-technical people to create apps with beacons as well.

There are several general purpose CMS platforms you can try, including:

There are also industry-specific ones. For example:

If you need someone to build an app for you, you can find freelance developers, agencies, and software houses for hire on Estimote Forums. Make sure to take a look: Estimote Forums: looking for devs

Estimote Monitoring, iBeacon, Eddystone, Nearable: what are these?

These are Bluetooth advertising protocols.This means they define what data beacons broadcast over Bluetooth, and the format of that data. You can think about it as the “language” that the beacons speak in. They’re also commonly referred to as “packets”. 

All new beacons ship with Estimote Monitoring enabled by default. This allows for much better beacon detection and reliability compared to other protocols. It also makes it easier to configure, trigger enter/exit events, and define multiple proximity zones programmatically. All the app templates and demos in Estimote Cloud and Estimote Apps for iOS and Android work with Estimote Monitoring out of the box.

If you bought beacons before September 2017, they're probably using iBeacon packet and we would strongly recommend that you upgrade to Estimote Monitoring. As a matter of fact, our engineers built Estimote Monitoring on top of iBeacon and added tons of new features for the much better experience. You can change the packets in the Estimote App for either iOS or Android or through the Estimote Cloud.

Estimote Beacons also work with the following popular beacon protocols: 

  • Nearable
  • iBeacon
  • Eddystone 
  • Here&Now

Nearable is our own protocol developed for Estimote Stickers. We’ve designed it to include sticker’s ID and readings from motion and temperature sensors in a single data packet, to provide apps with more physical world context.

iBeacon is a proprietary protocol from Apple, released in 2013. Support for iBeacon is baked into iOS, as part of the Core Location framework, but Estimote SDK for Android also detects iBeacon. Beacons broadcasting iBeacon protocol transmit their IDs, divided into three parts: UUID, Major, and Minor. Apps read the ID to identify the beacon and estimate proximity based on signal strength.

Eddystone is an open BLE protocol developed by Google. Eddystone-compatible beacons can broadcast three different data packets, called ‘frames’. Eddystone-UID is a standard frame similar to iBeacon, Eddystone-URL allows beacons to transmit URL addresses, and Eddystone-TLM includes telemetry and sensor data.

To learn more about protocols, go to What is a beacon protocol?

Building my first app

You already know a lot about how beacons work. It’s time to get your hands dirty and start with actual development. Your first step should be signing up for an Estimote Cloud Account that allows you to manage beacons and adjust their settings via Estimote Cloud, apps, and RESTful web API. Also, don’t forget to download the Estimote app. Now, for the building part. You’ll be doing that with Estimote SDK.

Essential tools:

Estimote Developer Portal is a comprehensive guide to beacon development, regularly updated with new content. Estimote Cloud’s app generator lets you download ready app templates with Estimote SDK and basic functionalities already implemented.

Get started:

Do I have to use Objective-C/Swift/Java?

We provide official support for iOS and Android. You can find Estimote SDK on GitHub. We've put together a list of third-party platforms you can use to integrate Estimote Beacons in your app. Learn how to use our products with Xamarin, PhoneGap, Raspberry Pi, etc.

Indoor Location: taking GPS indoors

Indoor Location SDK is a product for mapping location and navigating indoors. It allows for tracking the position of users and objects in real time.

You can use Location Beacons to map locations and integrate it with your own app, position and navigate users through complex indoor venues in real time. Just imagine the possibilities this unlocks for mobile experiences.

Learn about Estimote Indoor Location:

Remember: to test Indoor Location, you need to place at least one UWB Location Beacon on each wall of the location. The minimum number we recommend is 4 (one dev kit) to make sure we're getting enough data to accurately compute the position. 

With Location Beacons, it requires 6 beacons minimum to map a room (two dev kits). You can order an Indoor Location set of two dev kits on our website.

 

Cloud API

Estimote Cloud is a powerful tool allowing you to remotely manage your beacons. Normally, you do it through the web panel: cloud.estimote.com

However, thanks to OAuth support and Cloud API, you can integrate it with your own backend, too. You can gather analytics and manage beacons from the comfort of your own platform. You can also queue changes to beacon’s settings, and thanks to the Cloud API, users of your app will relay the adjustments to beacons when they’re in range.

If you want to start using Cloud API, read:

That’s it… or is it?

We’ve covered the basics, but there’s still a lot to learn! We encourage you to join and become active in our developer community (any questions are usually answered within a day!), access the Knowledge Base, and check out the Developer Portal for more development resources.

We’d also love to hear what you’re building with beacons, so don’t hesitate to reach out! Email us or find Estimote in social channels.

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