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How Airports Can Use iBeacon Technology to Improve The Passenger Experience

You arrive at the airport and you phone shows you your check-in counter number and the best route to get there.

When you approach the counter, the airline rep has already printed out your boarding pass and baggage tags.

Next, you get notified about the 20-minute waiting time at the security line. Okay, so you can still grab a coffee and sandwich at that sweet shop 250 meters ahead as they just sent you a discount coupon.

No, that’s not a dream. Actually, that’s the kind of passenger experience airports can create today using the iBeacon technology.

What is iBeacon?

iBeacon is the Apple’s native version of the Bluetooth-based beacon concept, which allows gadgets to broadcast and receive certain static pieces of data within short distances.

Introduced with iOS 7, these are the tiny Bluetooth transmitters, which can be found in iPhone 4S or later. The iBeacon APIs are also supported by Android devices.

Here’s a simple analogy to understand the beacons concept – they act like buttons or links to the physical world around you.

For instance, when you walk into a museum with an iBeacon transmitter installed and assuming that you have the museums app on your phone, you’ll get notifications about the latest exhibitions, queuing time and other useful information. As a business, you can use the iBeacon technology to deliver instant information the customers and offer better indoor mapping – something that GPS struggles with.

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In fact, iBeacon can now go even beyond a mobile app. Estimote has recently launched a new gadget called Mirror – the first video-enabled beacon. You plug this gadget to any smart TV and it starts displaying pre-set content when users approach it with a beacon-compatible phone. For instance, if you are selling a new VR headset, the user can start watching the video highlighting all the key product features once they step close enough.

One of the most interesting application cases so far is how airports use iBeacon technology.

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How Airlines Started to Enhance Customer Experience With iBeacon

KLM was the first to hop on board. They started offering in-terminal navigation to passengers at Schiphol airport back in 2014. When a user installs the airport “awareness app” they’ll receive real-time instructions on getting to their gate and the approximate time to the point. That stands for less lost, late and frustrated customers struggling to find their way during the connection.

Nice Côte d’Azur Airport decided to leverage the retail benefits of the iBeacon technology and sends out special deals and notifications depending on the customer’s location in the retail area. Airport Premier Club members can automatically collect loyalty points as they navigate through the airport.

Additionally, the airport plans to leverage iBeacon technology to facilitate access to Fast Track Security for Airport Premier Gold members, by allowing them to use their loyalty card automatically.

EasyJet has started experimenting with this technology back in 2014 at three major hubs – London Luton Airport, London Gatwick Airport and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. The company’s representative commented that they’ve been testing beacons at the bag drop off desks and security areas, notifying customers on the documents they now need to present and allowing to access their mobile boarding pass in one quick swipe. A series of trigger notifications was specifically designed to assist passengers during the critical points of their airport experience.

New York JFK International Airport (JFK) deployed beacon technology early in 2016 to display the security wait time for passengers and notify them about custom border protection areas, which shouldn’t be trespassed.

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More Use Cases For iBeacon Technology in the Airports

As a frequent flyer, I could think of at least 7 more reasons to develop an iBeacon app for the airport:

  • Real-time journey updates – for instance up to date information on the flight schedule/delays; gate changes or boarding notifications to hurry up those Duty-Free hoarders.
  • Personalized promo deals – based on the passenger’s airline profile details, airlines could team up with the airport authorities and offer more personalized deals e.g. restaurant discounts, discounted premium Wi-Fi passes, special shopping deals, upgrades and so on.
  • Wayfinding – why shouldn’t they replace the interactive map stands with real-time in-app navigation, which will guide the user not only to the gate but help them find useful facilities e.g. restrooms or airline lounges?
  • Passenger traffic management – during busy travel seasons there’s always a huge mess at the security control and passport control counters. Instead of dispatching manpower to handle the human jams, an app could guide travelers to the optimal route.
  • Data collection for service improvement – based on the collected location data airports can determine the most popular types of facilities/services and adjust the future capital improvement projects more efficiently. Also, you can survey the users through the app to understand their needs better and gather requests on the additional desired facilities.
  • Baggage tagging to alert passengers when they are separated from their bags.

And the last idea was actually spoken by EasyJet. The company mentioned that placing iBeacon enabled gadgets like bracelets can help the ground staff to accompany minors traveling alone more efficiently. Have you seen those 13-year olds with silly paper bags on their necks containing all their personal data? It looks ridiculous to me as an adult and I imagine how the kid feels.

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Why is The World Not Full of iBeacons Yet?

While the beacons themselves are pretty cheap with retail prices ranging from $5 to $50, implementing an iBeacon environment comes with additional challenges.

First, there are the maintenance and service costs, which can come as high as $300 per unit according to Forrester.

Next, there are some unique challenges involved in iBeacon app development.

The platform comes with a wide range of features like indoor navigation, smart signage, displaying queue times, pushing location-based deals, customer analytics, proximity payments and so on.

The cost of developing an airport iBeacon app will massively vary depending on the set of features you plan to staff inside your product. Apart from creating a “pretty” front-end face for your app, you’ll have to think about a robust back-end to power it all.

While Apple does provide a detailed SDK for developers to implement each feature, meaning there’s no need to build custom APIs in most cases, you will still need to invest in powerful admin panel with a custom content management system or even a content delivery network and some custom API integrations will be required to connect everything to your existing CRM for analytics.

When it comes to app design, UX and UI professionals should always account for the users micro-location and context to make an iBeacon app for the airport truly delightful.

A lot of on-ground testing may be required to make sure all the location feature work great and to make sure that the beacons are set up accordingly in the targeted area. Hence, comes a rather high price tag.

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iBeacon Technology Beyond The Airports

Airline passengers are not the only one who can enjoy the perks of this technology. Retailers, in fact, are adopting it much faster than the airports.

Considering that the majority of adults already stay glued to their smartphones in stores and use it to search for coupon codes, promo deals or compare prices, some of the biggest retailers including Armani, Longchamp and Hamleys are already pioneering with personalized marketing through iBeacons.

Why should you make an iBeacon mobile app for a retail business?

  • To offer contactless payments through the app.
  • To retain loyal customers with personalized promo deals based on their previous experience with your brand.
  • To target customers with special flash-sale offers and deals once they step close enough to your beacon (70 to 450 meters close, meaning you can potentially increase your walk-in traffic).

The same application cases justify building an iBeacon app for restaurants.

Using iBeacon technology in real estate can also boost the sales numbers. Here are some of the best ideas tested so far by innovative companies:

  • By placing iBeacons in large, luxury homes, potential buyers can receive more information when they enter the new room for instance on design, materials used or special décor elements. Think of it as a self-guided home tour.
  • During trade shows and real estate events to retain and attract more visitors to your stand and deliver personalized information to all the attendants (without handing out brochures)

For startups, iBeacon offers plenty of room to disruption as well. And if you have an idea and need some help with the implementation, Alty would be happy to suggest the best tools, tech stack and design for your app!

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