Unsolicited Messages Can’t be Sent to iOS and Android

This is one of most popular enquiries so we have created a new blog post explaining the situation. Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not possible to send unsolicited messages from beacons to iOS and Android. The problem is that this used to be possible and there are now many web sites still promoting old information.

In the past, there was a way for beacons to broadcast a URL using a protocol known as Google’s Eddystone-URL. This protocol allowed a beacon to transmit a web address and a smartphone or web browser with the ‘Nearby’ feature could detect this broadcast without needing a specific application installed.

However, from December 2018, Google announced that it would discontinue the ‘Nearby’ feature due to a significant increase in irrelevant and spammy notifications that were leading to a poor user experience. This change meant that the Eddystone-URL, which was a potential avenue for unsolicited messages, could no longer be used in this way.

In the wake of Google’s decision, the beacon messaging landscape has changed. Beacons can no longer send unsolicited messages via the Eddystone-URL protocol and all notifications now require an app installed on the device that can listen for the beacons.

While this might seem like a limitation, it provides a level of protection for users, ensuring that they’re only receiving notifications that are relevant and wanted.

The Demise of Unsolicited Marketing Using Beacons

There’s a new article at DIGIDAY on how Apple’s new privacy features have further rattled the location-based ad market. The iOS location and Bluetooth permission changes have caused users to opt-out of marketing messages:

Right now opt-in rates to share data with apps when they’re not in use are often below 50% … Three years ago those opt-in rates were closer to 100%

Benoit Grouchko, Teemo

80% of those users stopped all background tracking across their devices

Location Sciences

Google’s discontinuing support for Android Nearby notifications and Apple’s tightening of permissions have caused the demise of unsolicited marketing using beacons. This is understandable because unsolicited marketing is seen by end-users as intrusive and creepy.

However, the iOS and Android mechanisms are still there for more worthy applications such as visitor space usecases that need to provide location based information. For these types of application, there’s the need for good app onboarding explaining location and Bluetooth usage in order to provide the location-based information that the end-user is requiring.

While unsolicited marketing was the key benefit when iBeacon was first announced, the use of beacons has since diversified into less contentious and more practically useful areas such as real time locating (RTLS), IoT Sensing and insights through machine learning.

Using Beacons in Car Dealerships and Showrooms

Customers are increasingly expecting very high levels of customer service at car dealerships. This is very difficult to achieve due to the high levels of manpower needed, especially at the start and end of the day, as service staff search for customers’ cars.

On the sales side, some customers end up waiting to be seen (or leave) while others, usually millennials, expect better self-help information to better inform their choice.

There are untapped opportunities to make dealerships much more efficient and improve the customer experience through the use of technology.

Attaching beacons to cars and using apps and Bluetooth gateways solves some of the problems found in dealerships:

Finding cars – A significant amount of time can be wasted manually finding specific cars be they for sale or in for servicing. Sometimes a car might be at one of a few sites or even at a storage site. It might be in use and not be on a site. Cars sometimes block in other cars requiring extra keys to extract. Beacons attached to cars can locate them and adjacent cars in real time.

Providing Sales Information – Beacons attached to cars for sale can be used with apps to provide information and capture leads when the salesperson is busy or the dealership is closed. They provide a way for customers to continue the buying process when they have left the site and extend the showroom to their homes and workplaces. There are also opportunities to extend marketing to customers’ friends and family through social sharing.

Providing Servicing Information – Dealerships get very busy at the start and end of the day when customers drop off and pick up their vehicles. Apps and Bluetooth gateways and web sites can be used to provide automated information, based on location, as to the progress of servicing thus relieving staff of answering phone calls.

Once you have a beacon network in place collecting data you can perform more advanced analysis such as identifying cars for sale that haven’t moved for a long time, popular cars and unpopular cars. You can gather information on service time, throughput and productivity.

Read about using Beacons for Marketing

Learn about BeaconRTLS™

Read about Complete Solutions

iBeacons For Apple Passkit

A little known, under-promoted use of iBeacons is with Apple Passkit. Passkit allows you to create and distribute things like coupons, boarding passes, store cards, event tickets, promotions, offers or just information that can end up in the built-in iOS Wallet app. After adding a pass into the wallet, a user can get a notification about the pass when they are near an iBeacon associated with the pass, all without installing an app. There are lots of uses particularly in retail, events and hospitality.

The Apple developer documentation explains how the Wallet works and the passkit reference shows the iBeacon related set up fields.

An important thing to realise is that the beacon doesn’t send the pass to the smartphones. They just cause the triggering. You need to provide a mechanism, usually via a web site, where users can download the pass from your web server. Your server must be secure (HTTPS) and use a SSL certificate from a known certificate authority. Self-signed certificates won’t work. You will also have to set your server to serve the application/vnd.apple.pkpass MIME type when hosting the pass file.

There’s a useful example by Tom Harrington who shows how he created a Passbook Business Card. If you are not a technical person and it all looks too complicated, PassKit Inc  (nothing to do with Apple) have a platform based on Apple Wallet.

Apple Passkit works with all iBeacons.