There is a theory that, since the moment of creation, our Universe has been infinitely expanding. There are active debates about it in the scientific community because there is no explicit confirmation or refutation of this fact. However, any person can see with the unaided eye that this theory is absolutely true for the universe of information: it is expanding so rapidly that even the global network is not able to hold it all and now the information is making its way into the offline space.
Do you remember how in computer role-playing games, throughout the course of the adventure, you could find treasures and all kinds of different objects? You pointed your mouse cursor on them and information about the object appeared in a pop-up window: price, name, type and so on. Or, when wandering around a city, you hovered the cursor over a signboard of this or that building and the corresponding info was displayed. Imagine that there is a sensor in all such objects or buildings and your smartphone is the mouse cursor which allows you to get all the information. And a network connection is not required for that - as if objects and locations tell their details to your gadget by themselves. This is roughly how beacons work.
What is beacon?
Beacons (also referred as iBeacons) are miniature transmitters that communicate with smartphones via bluetooth within a radius of approximately 50 metres. The purpose of a beacon is, with the user's permission, to transfer information to devices in offline mode. This way, after installing beacon technologies in your shop or cafe, you will be able to inform customers about discounts, promotions, recognize loyal clients and learn about their interests. A beacon can gather information about a shopper, build a list of preferences and, based on this, offer discounts and products that are likely to interest him or her. In other words, if a person watched only action films in the last two months, a beacon will send him a trailer of the upcoming action film; if a buyer touched tennis rackets in a sports store, then the system won't suggest him to buy a baseball cap.
Who lights it up?
Beacons work via special apps of particular establishments - bars, cafes, theatres, museums, stores, supermarkets, coffee shops, etc. The application memorizes which goods or services were purchased or viewed and sends offers based on personalized experiences. Beacons also track down the client's location. In this way, they, firstly, keep the history of your visits. Secondly, they monitor in which part of the store and beside which item you spent more time (and consequently, what interested you the most). Thirdly, they help with navigation: in all big airports and supermarkets beacons are being actively installed so that nobody would get lost. As you can see, beacons provide a wide variety of possibilities for business growth and enterprise application development.
Of course, not everyone will enjoy the supervision of "big brother" - in this case it is enough to switch off bluetooth, delete the app of the cafe/supermarket and the phone won't interact with beacons. If you do not want your beacon solutions to annoy, cause paranoid thoughts and force the users to reject them, it makes sense not to overuse the capabilities provided by this technology. Few people will find it pleasant to receive terabytes of spam while strolling around a shopping center. Or struggle with the mobile phone that attempts to show you some trailer throughout the film show.
The prospects of beacon technologies for business have already been recognized by PayPal. They have developed a beacon that can accept payments and thus eliminated queues at cash registers as such. Just imagine: you enter a store, your smartphone immediately reacts to a beacon and sends you a push notification - "Hello, user_name! We are glad to see you again in shop_name. There is a discount on your favourite kind of fruit today!" You take the fruit, pay for your purchases by a light touch of the screen and leave the store. Voila! And no queues, no waiting or a waste of time, you don't even have to take your wallet or credit card out.
The vision of the future
The beacon technology has a great potential for development. Beacons can be used to control attendance in schools and universities, make interactive tours around cities and museums, create heat maps of shops and geolocation games, navigate the blind people, locate luggage in airports, develop augmented reality and so on. In a word, they can take you as far as your imagination goes when it comes to transmitting information via bluetooth.
Beacons are quite cheap to produce, consequently, they don't cost much. It's reasonable to assume that soon they will spread everywhere as much as possible and will replace bright advertising signs, paper flyers and other non-electronic ads. It's quite likely that an amateur short movie about a girl who walks around a city in augmented reality glasses and sees a picture customized to her taste will turn out to be prophetic and in a few years it will become the norm.