Why Different Beacon Specifications?
Apple released iBeacon with iOS 7. iOS is a very big segment of smart phone users but there is a big market for android and other OSes as well. As apple made it difficult for the iBeacon manufacturers for providing SDKs for Android, they came up with alternate specifications as a workaround. One such example is AltBeacon from Radius Network. You might hear a general term for beacons now, they are called BLE Beacons or Proximity Beacons.It must be remembered that all iBeacons are also BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons as they are based on the same technology.
There are a number of beacon specifications. The most popular specifications seems to be the following:
- iBeacon (from Apple)
- AltBeacon (from Radius Network)
- Placedge (from Samsung)
iBeacon is the first beacon specification. The specification is provided by Apple. When you are buying your beacon hardware, the following shows that the hardware is based on iBeacon specification.
The specification requires the beacons to transmit beacon advertisement every 100 ms. It’s for manufacturers, so as developers, we don’t have to worry about it as much.
This specification was introduced by Radius Networks, a provider of various beacon hardware. The specification was released in July, 2014. It has been released as an open specification.
AltBeacon allows payload space to be used for additional useful information. iBeacon payload can contain no data other than 3 identifiers. I could find no other beacons from outside manufacturer supporting this specification. Radius Network’s beacons obviously support this.
The specification was introduced by Samsung earlier this month (November, 2014).
Radius Network has a beacon supporting the specification.
There are also restrictions on the software side. Placedge SDK will only work with those beacons which are registered with Samsung with Placedge Console or Server API. They have a partner program for this purpose. Additionally the SDK is only for Android OS running 4.3 (Jelly Beans) or above. It is not very clear whether hardware manufacturers would take care of this registration or Solution providers would bear the pain of this registration. Since they need the partnership to use SDK anyway, it is not as bad than it first sounds. But this is certainly more restricted than Apple.
MultiBeacon is an idea to provide advertisement, based on multiple specifications simultaneously, from the same device. It is like those dual mode devices, which support multiple wireless protocols. This is to reduce market fragmentation. As a solution provider, it would be a nightmare to provide different systems for Apple and non-apple customers, hence multi-beacons.
Motorola’s MPact platform uses a combination of Wi-Fi and beacons for indoor location. In addition to iBeacon mode, it also supports Batter Save and MPact modes. The details can be found here. Additionally, it provides tools for providing this data for your analysis. It also supports multiple beacon modes including iBeacon.
Even when you see a sign like this in future, it is better to check what are the actual specifications supported as there are more than two specifications now, and the very specification might be missing, which your users might be needing.