iBeacon! iBeacon! iBeacon!

Everywhere I look, there’s this growing excitement about Apple’s revered iBeacon. It has become the Holy Grail of #eventtech.

And, like the Holy Grail, it’s a myth. It’s a unicorn.

That’s because the details matter and unless you know what they are, you’ll be duped by the hype.

With that in mind, here’s some perspective.

What is it?

Geek Stuff (written for everyone)

iBeacon is Apple’s implementation of a Bluetooth Low Energy profile. (Also known as BLE and sometimes referred to as Bluetooth Smart.)

Bluetooth has always done a great job connecting devices like headphones to your smartphone or car audio system, but previous versions were a huge drain on battery life.

BLE adds superior battery management, such that you can leave it on all the time with little impact to your power reserves. (Dependent on usage, of course.)

Couple that with some interesting additions to what it can do and you have the makings of something that the events industry can love.

What do people think it can do?

Some people are expecting BLE to make things possible at events such as:

  • Granular, location-based attendance tracking
  • Close-proximity messaging and information exchange

Typically, these have been available only through the creation of expensive custom software and hardware implementations. (Think: RFID)

Wow! You can watch the flow of attendees from session to session and exhibit booth to exhibit booth!

Not exactly.

The Facts

It doesn’t work on Android (yet).

I love my iPhone, and most of my colleagues use one, but guess what?

We’re in the minority.

Android phones are far more prevalent in the market and they don’t support the iBeacon BLE profile. (Not that they couldn’t per se, but it would have to be reverse engineered or the spec would need to be released by Apple for use on these devices.)

Information Exchange is Opt-in

Event producers are excited about being able to push information to attendees, but also the ability for attendees to share information with organizers and sponsors or exhibitors.

The excitement around iBeacon will make all of these things available to every event organizer because “everyone has a smartphone now!

That information you think you’re going to push to attendees? They have to have an an app (your app) or Passbook enabled to accept your Bluetooth notifications.

Oh - and to get it to work, you need to be able to use a Unix Terminal on your Mac to talk directly to the iBeacons to set them up, then you have to create your own application to read the iBeacon data and deliver analytics.

There are currently no mobile apps or desktop applications you can buy to do this for you.

(Yes, this will change over time.)

Adopt Me, Please.

What’s the adoption rate of event apps? Twenty percent? Thirty? That’s hardly enough to have a large-scale impact.

That information you think your attendees are going to share with you or your exhibitors? Again, they have to have an app.

What unique value does your event app provide in order to entice attendees to install it? The agenda? A list of exhibitors?

Get real.

Even if you got them to install it, why would they accept your push messages? Why would they share personal or other useful information?

What can we do?

First and foremost, as an industry, we need to understand what real attendee value in event apps is - and deliver it. Until we do that, adoption of event apps will remain a novelty - and so will the adoption of iBeacon.

What can you do?

Figure out what your goals are, then explore iBeacon. Keep an eye on it. Test it when you can.

Then get back to work.

Are there other, readily-available technologies that help accomplish your goals?

Instead of waiting for the unicorn, think about what you can do with the workhorse chomping at the bit in front of you.


(Buy the unicorn print on Etsy here. Because cats with pistols riding unicorns are cool.)