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Innovations in Proximity Technology

Tony Scherba
February 2, 2015

When we think of proximity technology the default vision is passing by a store and having a coupon pop up on your smartphone, but the technology is going to do so much more.

As you approach your car, the door unlocks and the motor starts.  When returning home, your lights turn on and your favorite music comes on the speaker—and you haven’t pressed a button.

What was once Jetsons territory is now reality, and we have Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to thank. While near field communication (NFC) technology, which uses radio frequencies to communicate between devices, has been around for years, many modern applications make use of BLE chips in smartphones to connect to beacons placed in specific locations. When a smartphone user is within range, the BLE chips connect with the beacons, which can trigger actions such as alerts, messages, or automated actions on connected devices.

All iOS 7 or higher model iPhones now come equipped with Apple’s “iBeacon” technology, and Android phones on the 4.3 operating system or higher can take advantage of BLE technology, which has a greatly expanded radius for action over NFC technology.

Here are a few ways that your company can enhance the user experience through location-aware technology:

Provide proximity-based retail marketing offers

By encouraging customers to download your mobile app, you can track their progress through your retail stores and send special offers or alerts when they approach specific displays. For instance, Universal Display offers a merchandising solution for stores that places beacons inside of mannequins. Shoppers can download the store’s branded mobile application to instantly discover what the mannequin is wearing as they walk past the display. This same concept could easily be applied to museums or zoos as well.

Remotely activate connected devices

As more household appliances and everyday objects become equipped with sensors and beacons, people can use their smartphones’ proximity technology to remotely activate devices. For instance, instead of asking employees to swipe a keycard or sign in as they enter the office building, a smart lock on the door will interface with their smartphones, unlocking the door as they approach. When an employee leaves at the end of the day, her computer and other workplace devices can automatically power down once her phone is out of range, saving on electricity costs at the workplace.

Manage contactless payments

BLE, as well as NFC technology, allow customers to make purchases by simply swiping their smartphones over readers—eliminating the need for cash transactions or credit card processing. In the United Kingdom, for instance, consumers can affix a Barclaycard paytag to their phones to instantly make contactless payments at retailers including MacDonald’s, Starbucks, and the London bus system. We’re just starting to see this become mainstream with Apple Pay.

Play interactive games

Proximity technologies can be used to bring an additional layer of depth to multi-player games. Here at Yeti, we built an interactive mobile game that prompted players to “battle” other players when they were within close proximity, and alerted them to other challenges as they approached nearby beacons in real-world locations. Even if your company isn’t focused on game development, this technology can be used to develop a memorable brand experience at live events, and help you win over new customers.

On a broader level, proximity technology can help us eliminate buttons and screens—moving to a world where actions are triggered by pure motion.

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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