In June of this year, I had one of those incredible experiences working in technology where you see or hear something and know that the world has changed. It happened while I was sitting in bed at home, watching Apple’s WWDC conference, having just finished the developer session on a new framework called iBeacon. Later that night I couldn’t sleep, and as my mind raced I knew that Apple had, overnight, created an entirely new market.
About a month later, in early August, I wrote about the future of iOS and Android, touching specifically in points 8-10 why mobile platforms were poised to help local commerce break out. After iOS7 launched I followed this up with how powerful iBeacon really is and how it would transform the entire space.
Around this time, I met Estimote’s founders, Jakub and Lukasz. Both are incredibly brilliant people, and both had a similar vision for how contextual computing would forever change how we interact with the physical world. But what I was really drawn to was their integrity and values and how well we complemented one another.
Today I’m incredibly excited to announce I am joining Estimote, to run the company’s Business and Operations teams and build out a team and office in New York City. I haven’t been this excited or passionate about a company, its mission, or its founders for many years. Here are some thoughts on Estimote and an update on the transformative power of BLE technology to change how we interact with the world:
- It was clear to me back in June, and now confirmed—in less than 6 months since developers saw the first preview of this new framework at WWDC, Apple has driven innovation forward with iBeacon at a faster clip than anyone else could have. Its integration in iOS7 and the recent announcement of nationwide trials in Apple stores will further this momentum. iBeacon is not synonymous with beacons, however, and testing and trials across both platforms are happening today. The market has truly gelled and the technology is ready for primetime.
- Beacons and smart sensors are living up to their promise. Together with opt-in application frameworks, they enable massive availability of context: location/proximity, stored preferences, application permissions, social data, omnichannel behavior, and a bunch of stuff that’s relevant to you in both your offline and online worlds. I’m talking massive amounts of data that has never been available before. How is that only now in late 2013, do smartphones finally have the power to know where you are in relation to your environment and what’s relevant around you? The secret to contextual computing is the combination of ubiquitous devices, cloud software, and hardware, and this video shows Estimote’s vision for how this intersection can benefit consumers.
- Estimote has created a recognizable brand almost overnight, with over 10,000 developers now using our beacons and software in the short few months since graduating from Y-Combinator’s S13 class and launching. Wow. This level of initial traction in a developer-facing market is almost unprecedented , and it’s coming from both long-tail developers and large companies. It was clear to me that iBeacon would enable massive supply-side network effects overnight due to the installed base of BLE smart devices, and that Android would follow. But what’s been unexpected has been the direct pull from developers, brands, marketers and retailers. Almost everyone is considering applications based on smart sensors, and the winning technology on the consumer side is low-energy Bluetooth.
- I mentioned that proprietary solutions will die, and they have. But what’s more interesting to me today is not that NFC is gone—it’s that the past 5 years of folks banging their head against a wall around NFC has seeded the market. The magic of BLE and the platform approaches that are emerging is in fact that the tech is decoupled from payments, which ironically ensures both its standalone success, and the success of payment applications built on top of it. Some of the applications we see being developed on Estimote are payment-based, especially in areas like Europe where contactless payment DNA from NFC is strong. BLE’s concept of smart ranging replaces this functionality—you can use the closest range for payments in a similar way as “swiping your phone”. Because payment applications require security & authentication some of the standardization in this stack will develop over time. So payments on this technology will succeed precisely because they don’t have to. Both the mobile platforms and innovative startups will drive the technology forward in ways that are friendly for consumers as the market evolves.
- The inherent advantage of BLE over other lower fidelity and higher cost networking technologies is apparent when you walk in to a building or approach a physical sign or display which has been lit up with smart beacons. Ranging capabilities inherent in the platform enable ambient awareness of consumers who have opted in without requiring they swipe their phone or do something unnatural. Beacons placed in physical spaces can detect a consumer’s smart phone without being intrusive—imagine doing a local search and when you arrive at the merchant a simple cheap beacon closes this attribution loop? This is the holy grail of local commerce and it’s happening now. And these applications are even more compelling when combined with data that makes the consumer experience better.
Everything is really lining up to make this next wave in local commerce massive. The world we interact with is getting smarter at an accelerated pace. And the pieces are in place to make this happen—consumer, hardware, client, and cloud.
If you are a developer or consumer who wants to play with our beautifully designed smart beacons, you can order them here. If you’re a retailer or brand or anyone else interested piloting our technology you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re passionate about this market and want to join our team or get involved with how contextual computing is changing the world, just reach out. Estimote has the vision, the team, the technology and the potential to make the world we live in feel more connected, and we’re going to have a lot of fun trying to make it happen.