Location technology - is it for you?

Location Technology - is it for you?
January 2015

Connecting to an Info-Point can be used to orientate a visitor by giving their approximate position.

What are location technologies?

In the rapidly-changing world of mobile digital there are now several competing technologies for triggering content that is relevant to where a user is standing, or what they are looking at. These technologies open up many new possibilities, though each has its pitfalls. They are all usable with info-Point, which is itself a localised information technology platform. Let’s look in simple terms at what each one does.

iBeacons are small and can be easily hidden. They are best for indoor spaces.

iBeacons and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

What is it?

A small battery-powered device that continuously broadcasts a code using a new Bluetooth standard.

How does it work?

As a user walks into range an app on the phone ‘hears’ the BLE signal and translates the code received into an action. The user does not need to do anything, so this is described as a ‘push’ technology.

What to look out for?

This is an emerging technology with accompanying hype and proprietary competition leading to some instability in products. It does though follow a Bluetooth standard, so should be compatible with all modern phones. BLE is the wider technology and is programmable with text, whereas iBeacon is a Apple-marketed sub-set and only broadcasts an ID number. The user needs to have a app installed and active for their phone to be listening for BLE signals. BLE devices and iBeacons come in different sizes and costs, but all require batteries, so these will need changing, and they will not work in sub-zero temperatures. The devices vary in cost and size, but are broadly between 10 and  20 pounds/dollars/euro.

How to use it with Info-Point?

BLE will always need an in-phone app to sense the beacons and translate the ID or text into an action. The content that the beacon points to can be on an Info-Point. This can keep the app itself small, and restrict content access to users who are on site.

 

NFC is easy to use and likely to become more common. The tags are inexpensive and need no power. They are suitable for outdoors.

NFC tag

What is it?

A short distance radio technology that works like contactless payment cards, or London Transport Oyster cards. The user holds their NFC-enabled phone next to the tag and it opens the page or resource.

How does it work?

The tag is a ‘passive’ device, powered by a signal from the phone. As such it needs no batteries. On receiving a signal from a phone it broadcasts the text that you have pre-programmed into it via a programming app on your phone. This text is normally a web address. The user simply holds their phone near to the tag for it to work.

What to look out for?

NFC requires a phone with NFC capability in its hardware, and the user has to have it switched on - which is a battery drain. Apple devices currently restrict NFC to its Apple Pay system, although this is expected to change. The tags cost a few pence/cents each.

How to use it with Info-Point?

NFC tags automatically work with Info-Point. To set one up, access the web page or resource on your Info-Point and copy and paste the web address from your browser into an NFC programming app on your phone. Hold your phone next to the tag and initiate programming. This can be ‘locked’ to prevent anyone changing it (including you) or ‘open’ to permit updating.

QR code

What is it?

A development of the bar code ‘stripes’ used in shops. In order to carry more information they have two dimensions so appear as a chequerboard pattern. They have been around since the 1990s and, although their demise has been widely anticipated, they keep rolling on, mainly because they follow a standard, so are universally compatible, and you can simply print them, so they have virtually no cost.

How does it work?

The user needs a standard QR code reader app (available free) on their phone. They initiate the app and point their phone’s camera at the QR code. The QR code contains text characters that are deciphered by the phone. If that text is a web address then the app launches a browser and takes the user to the web page, or to a web resource, such as a video.

What to look out for?

Although QR codes are very common, and should work on all smartphones that have a camera function, not everyone will have a reader app on their phone, or know how they work. The codes have to be clear, so don’t put them too far away, or behind glass/laminate where reflections may obscure them.

How to use it with Info-Point?

QR Codes automatically work with Info-Point. Simply access the web page or resource on your Info-Point and copy and paste the web address from your browser into a QR code generator, of which there are many freely available online. Copy or download the generated QR code image and print it out.

QR codes are cheap, ubiquitous, and widely compatible, but not always easy for the visitor to use.

GPS

What is it?

Using navigation satellites to pinpoint your position in terms of latitude and longitude. Combined with a map, and sometimes called GIS, this is the technology that vehicle ‘satnav’ systems use.

How does it work?

The phone determines its latitude and longitude from one or more of the increasing number of satellite navigation constellations. Smartphone apps and modern browsers can get this position information from the phone and it can be used to locate the user on a map, or to trigger a particular set of information that is specific to the user’s location. Some phones can also detect acceleration, so can keep track of your position for a few minutes since the last satnav ‘fix’. Some can also detect orientation, opening up possibilities for location-sensitive Augmented Reality.

What to look out for?

Navigation satellite signals are inherently very weak and coverage at your site may not be good enough - certainly not indoors. Accuracy is generally to a few metres, which is not good enough for individual objects, but is OK for big outdoor spaces. The user may have GPS turned ‘off’ or privacy settings set to ‘high’, which may prevent it working.

How to use it with Info-Point?

Your developer builds web pages or web apps that request position information from the user device. This will work with most modern browsers and modern phones and tablets, but you should have a fall-back option for where it does not. You can then use any position information to drive interactive maps, or to trigger specific content. 

Modern browsers can get a GPS positon, making web apps location-aware.