Proof of Concept for Beacon Projects

It’s easy to buy into an idea and commit significant resources only to find very late on that a project is overly difficult or impossible to implement. We see too many companies only come to us after they have gone a long way down a particular road only to discover they made a big mistake early on. It might be, for example, they have heavily committed to the wrong beacon, wrong platform or have assumed something on one of the mobile platforms. They didn’t do their research. Often we can help them get on the right track but sometimes not.

We always recommend organisations research upfront. Test risky areas. Create a low cost proof of concept exercising risky areas. A proof of concept is the implementation of a small subset of the whole system to prove implementing the whole thing is possible. Good candidates for functionality for proof of concepts are specific usecases, scenarios or user stories. Choose specific usecases to exercise what you think might be the most difficult or unknown parts of the system.

Proof of concepts provide a feel for the development effort that will be required to develop the complete system thus giving an indication of the project’s cost and the financial viability of the project.

It’s also possible to create proof of concepts that include business goals. Think ‘proof of value’ rather than ‘proof of concept’. Proving a project has value to stakeholders can help unlock realistic funding for development of the complete project.

Read about consultancy

Read about feasibility studies

Is it Possible to Continuously Scan for Bluetooth Devices on iOS and Android?

We sometimes get asked if it’s possible to use a smartphone as a gateway to scan for Bluetooth devices. The thinking is usually that workers or users already have devices so why not make use of them?

While it is possible, there are many reasons why you might not want to do this:

  • On iOS, Apple hide Bluetooth MAC addresses and for some APIs hide the iBeacon ids making unique identification more difficult.
  • You will find it very difficult to get a continuously scanning app through Apple app store review. You will need strong justifications.
  • Scanning continuously uses lots of battery power, even when advertising with periodic ‘off’ and ‘on’ periods.
  • Capabilities of devices vary meaning you will almost certainly get some end user devices where your implementation won’t work. For example, some manufacturers stop long running processes.
  • Some users will play with their phones and end up purposely or inadvertently disabling your application.

The best scenarios are those where you can dictate the phone type, it can be mains (PSU) powered and the phone isn’t owned by a user (i.e. it’s just used as a gateway). It’s almost always better to use a dedicated gateway.

PubNub Android Tutorials

We recently came across a great resource on PubNub that shows how to use Android to detect beacons and also transmit as a beacon.

The tutorial is in three parts that 1) Describes beacon advertising and how to scan for beacons 2) How to filter detected beacons 3) Setting up Android as an emitter.

There’s also a related PubNub article by the same author on how to Create a Tessel Beacon with a BLE Module.

Capacitor Plugin for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

There’s a new Capacitor plugin for Bluetooth LE. Capacitor is new way to build web apps. Capacitor’s native plugin APIs allow easy access to common functionality, such as Bluetooth, across multiple platforms.

The plugin supports the web, Android and iOS. It allows scanning, GATT connecting, reading, writing and notifications. The source code is available on GitHub.

Rapid Prototyping Android Bluetooth Apps

Elektor Magazine has a webinar Rapid Prototyping BLE Android Apps Using MIT App Inventor taking place on June 10, 2021 at 1600 CEST.

MIT App Inventor is a cloud-based tool that allows you to build apps in the web browser. It provides a visual programming block-based environment allowing anyone, even children, to build fully functional apps for smartphones and tablets.

The first 50 registrants are being entered into a raffle to win 10 PIC-IoT boards and vouchers worth €10 and €25 for the Elektor Store.

Starting Android iBeacon App Development

Here are some pointers how to go about Android beacon development:

  • The Android documentation is excellent.
  • Read the posts tagged Android on this blog.
  • Avoid the libraries produced by the beacon manufacturers. They tend to add little value, are usually poorly documented and aren’t changed when there are updates to underlying Android libraries. You can achieve everything with the Android APIs. The only exception is connecting via GATT to Sensoro beacons where the Service/Characteristic information isn’t publicly available and hence you have to use their SDK.
  • The TI SensorTag library has some great examples of how to connect via GATT.
  • Nordic Semiconductor, the manufacturer of the System on a Chip (SoC) in most beacons, has useful libraries for scanning and connecting via GATT.
  • Take a look at the Bluetooth LE Wiki for links to more resources.

If you need more help we provide beacon app development services.

Should I Use the Manufacturer iBeacon SDKs?

Some manufacturers offer SDKs to allow programmatic access to their beacons from iOS and Android.

Most SDKs tend to be poorly implemented/documented, tie your code into using that particular beacon and rarely get updated to use newer mobile platform APIs. They also tend to be thin abstractions over the Android and iOS Bluetooth APIs.

If you rely on a beacon manufacturer that doesn’t update their SDK, it’s eventually the case that the underlying Android and/or iOS API changes such that your solution becomes non-optimal and, in the worse case, breaks.

Instead, when you can, we recommend you use the iOS and Android Bluetooth APIs directly to make your code independent of the beacon type. In this way you don’t end up depending on intermediate code and this has the benefit that you can more easily change beacon providers.

Alternatively, use an independent 3rd party library such as Radius Network’s iOS SDK or one of the many Android Bluetooth libraries.

However, there are some cases where you must use the manufacturer library. This is usually in cases where there the app needs to connect with the beacon (as opposed to only view advertising scans) to perform beacon specific things. The Sensoro SDK is an example where their private protocol (to prevent squatters) and sensor information can only be obtained via their SDK.

Which Beacons are the Most Compatible?

We get asked a lot which beacons are the most compatible. All beacons, whether iBeacon or Eddystone, are compatible with iOS and Android. There are a few ‘tracker’ type Bluetooth devices around that don’t transmit the right Bluetooth header and can’t be seen on iOS but we don’t sell those.

Almost all beacons are slight derivations of a few standard circuit designs and firmware provided by Texas Instruments, Dialog and Nordic who produce the System On a Chip (SoC) inside beacons. Hence, they all transmit to Bluetooth standards.

Use of standard SoC Chip and firmware libraries ensures Bluetooth compatibility

The main area that can differ is the Antenna and PCB layout that can lead to different radiation patterns. The ability to detect a beacon isn’t affected and differences manifest themselves as differing beacon signal strength (hence range) and stability.

The main areas where beacons differ is not in compatibility but in physical characteristics such as battery size and waterproofing that are to be found as categories at the left hand side of our store.

One thing people don’t realise is that problems occur with phone compatibility rather than beacon compatibility. Over time, we have discovered about 5% of our customers have problems getting the Manufacturer’s configuration to app connect to beacons on Android. To be clear, this is only when apps need to connect (to change settings) as opposed to only scan for beacons so this doesn’t tend to be a problem (for end users) once everything is set up.

To answer the question, Bluetooth standards are such that all beacons can be seen on all phones and compatibility isn’t an issue. Problems we have seen have been related to phones rather than beacons. We have never had a beacon returned to us because it’s incompatible.