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Making Waves: A Beacon to the Future!

At Making Waves we are excited about new technologies and very eager to share this excitement with our clients. That’s exactly what happened when we got our first beacons from Estimote. In just three weeks we went from concept to a working app and surprised our clients with an innovative solution.

What are beacons?

Beacons, much like lighthouses, are devices that constantly emit signals that allow them to be identified. However, in contrast to lighthouses, beacons do not emit light but a Bluetooth signal that is invisible to the human eye. Beacons are also very small: you can fit a beacon in the palm of your hand. Think smaller than a deck of cards! They do not require much energy, as they can run on the same battery for up to two years.

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Why beacons might be useful?

Imagine that you are visiting the Louvre in Paris, and you love one of the paintings. Unfortunately, the only information that you can easily obtain is its title. The description is short and, as usual in France, available only in French. Now, imagine that there is a small beacon near each of the paintings. With the Louvre app installed, you would be able to get all the information about the painting you are interested in by simply approaching the painting. How? When you approach the painting, your mobile device is able to pick up the signal from the beacon located nearby. A unique beacon ID is passed to the Louvre app that is able to associate it with a specific work of art. As a result, the description is immediately – with no user interaction – displayed on your screen.

That’s just one of many possible use cases.

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Imagine beacons guiding you through a large airport. Or maybe you are walking through a mall and learning about the newest promotions from the shops you are passing by. Or maybe the combination of your mobile device and a store’s beacons can serve as your personal shopping assistant while you are looking for a new suit!

Our solution

When Making Waves received several beacons from Estimote, we started up their engines and took ‘em for a ride. Just kidding. But we did want to evaluate their capabilities and to put them through their paces. Radek Piekarz created a demonstration showing that these devices can work with Android (Playing with Estimote iBeacons & Android 4.3), even though, at that time, this operating system wasn’t supported. Meanwhile, I prepared a PhoneGap plugin that allows for creating HTML5 applications that communicate with the beacons (iBeacons PhoneGap proof of concept app). After we were comfortable with this new technology, Making Waves decided to create a proof-of-concept app using beacons, then demonstrate it to our clients. We chose to build a coffee shop app that welcomes customers to coffee shops.

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The app leads customers from the store entrance to the bar, then allows them to order and pay for their coffee. Finally, the app informs its user when the coffee is ready. All this with only two clicks.

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In just three weeks, we were able to design and build:

  • an iPhone app for coffee shop clients,
  • an iPad app for baristas,
  • a back-end with an API and an administration panel.

We then tested the whole solution at our Oslo office.

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The takeaway

The whole development team had great fun working on this project. We were able to play with beacons, PhoneGap, Sencha Touch, Knockout, Symfony 2 and many other exciting technologies while building something innovative. Moreover, and most importantly, our clients were really impressed with the solution, calling its features Harry Potter-like.

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