A note on proximity APIs: the iBeacon case

1 minute read

Using Bluetooth Low Energy(BLE), iBeacon opens up a new whole dimension by creating a beacon around regions so your app can be alerted when users enter them. Beacons are a small wireless sensors placed inside any physical space that transmit data to your iPhone using Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as Bluetooth 4.0 and Bluetooth Smart).
With iBeacon, Apple is going to dump on NFC and embrace the internet of things

There’s finally some progress, but it still seems a far cry from the solution.

I simply don’t believe in promises. Having a feature never translated to having a feature well done. All these things have been promised by a LOT of technologies and standard before, and never delivered. I don’t care about the standard. The reasons for failing are always the same:

  1. slow handshake (should be sub-second, like swiping a credit card)
  2. no spatial positioning awareness (“the device you’re interacting with is 2 mt to your left”)
  3. slow bandwidth (should be able to stream a HD movie)

The problem is: today 99.9% of the app to do anything with a device near you uses satellites to get the GPS location and then bounces some packets of data around the globe, to Ireland or New Zealand and back. If you think that the device you want to talk with is 10cm from yours, that’s absurd (I understand the reasons, but it’s also obvious it’s absurd).

The scene to solve here is simple: I take out my phone and in a split second it’s able to detect the devices around me and interact with them with a high throughput (i.e. streaming a HD movie). I don’t care how, can be NFC, BLE, WiFi, or a combination of all of them (“handshake with NFC-Bonjour while WiFi with AirDrop fires up the high speed link”).

It just needs to happen with a simple, straightforward API.