Bluetooth beacons have been turned into interactive digital signage players by one of the largest manufacturers of the high buzz factor radio transmitters.
The Polish start-up Estimote has announced a new product called Estimote Mirror, a dongle that plugs into the back of any display that has an HDMI and USB port (if they are next to each other). The dongle has a Snapdragon system on chip processor on it that supports video play-out, as well as WiFi.
Estimote Mirror, says the company on its product blog, can not only communicate with nearby phones and their corresponding apps, but also take content from these apps and display it on any digital screen around you.
When plugged in to a display – a TV or commercial panel – the dongle “reads BLE signals from nearby compatible apps or Estimote Stickers to receive content, and a programmable rendering engine decides what to display, while USB is used as an endless supply of power. And mobile developers don’t have to learn any new technology to control these large digital displays with Mirror. They can just embed our SDK into their apps so that users can trigger contextual and personalized content simply by approaching screens where Estimote Mirror is installed.”
The company says integration into an app involves just a “snippet of code.”
Estimote is touting use cases like airports, floating the concept of a traveler with his or her airline app installed and active.
Imagine you have a connecting flight and have just landed at your first destination. You likely have your airline’s app installed on the phone in your pocket. Because you’re logged-in, your phone knows your flight time, departure gate and other relevant details, like whether your outbound flight is delayed. When you approach an airport flight monitoring screen, it will simply react to your presence. Personalized content will be mirrored directly from your airline app. It’s the mobile SDK which casts BLE instructions and content to the nearby video-enabled beacon.
The other scenario fits primarily in retail, using the company’s slim, low-cost Estimote Stickers, which are teeny $10 beacons with accelerometers and temperature sensors.
Mirror can react not only to users with installed apps, but also by sensing for BLE signals from objects around it. Content can be displayed on-screen when nearby BLE signals are detected. For example, Estimote Stickers attached to objects will send contextual data when picked up or moved. Mirror will detect these interactions and display content tied to a particular object or gesture. This allows consumers in a retail store to experience magical interactive moments even if they don’t have the retailer’s app installed.
So like RFID or mechanical triggers, the idea here is someone lifts up a purse that has a Sticker attached to it, and contextual content about that purse is triggered to appear on the nearby screen – the media served by the Mirror dongle.
“The ways Mirror can be used are limitless,” says Estimote CEO Jakub Krzych. “A brick-and-mortar store can install Mirror on wall-mounted screens, so those monitors show video ads or product information that change depending on the proximity of a particular customer. If a shopper has that store’s app on her phone, Mirror could discern if she has a history of buying a certain brand. The store can then display ads of that brand’s latest products when she walks by.”
The company is taking pre-orders for Mirror developer kits, which cost $99. They say the kits will be in nerd hands before the end of this year. One story suggest Dec. 1.
Intriguing stuff. Contextual marketing is the real deal, and this speaks directly to that notion. There are, of course, some “buts” and also some questions.
The big speed bump on this idea is that beacons still require an app to be installed and active, and a company using beacons – like a retailer – somehow has to get a lot of people downloading, installing and using that app to make the Mirror system valuable. The Mirror units do support something called Eddystone, which in theory could get around that.
The lift and learn thing with the Stickers is a way around that, but there are already numerous ways to do that using other technologies. What is perhaps interesting here is that close proximity doesn’t appear to be necessary, as it is with, say, an NFC or RFID reader, or bar code scanner. The range is 100 metres, though I assume there are things that can be done to “throttle” that to a tighter zone.
The other interesting thing is how pairing a beacons with a display panel means battery life – one to five years depending on the beacons design – is not an issue because power is supplied by the display panel, via the USB connector.
There are other questions about media storage, types of files supported, device management, what happens when the panel is shut down (since the dongle gets its power from USB), how is media organized (is there playlist software?), what happens if the USB and HDMI ports aren’t close enough to each other to plug in the way this is designed, and so on.
Nonetheless, there will be a lot of interest in this and lots of software and retail solutions people wanting to, at minimum, have this as some innovative new eye candy to tout in PR and at trade shows. It will also get a look from the vast crowd out there that is endlessly looking for ways to cut hardware costs out of their signage projects. I don’t think there’s a price on these dongles yet, but you get a three-pack for $99 in the developer kit, so that hints these things are cheap-cheap.