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 email@example.com. 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.
so happy for you Steve! congrats on staying in the startup trenches (and in NYC). the community and Estimote is lucky to have you. 😉
awesome news, Steve. this is right up your alley and i’m really excited about what’s in store. good luck!
Congratulations – exciting times ahead!
Huge news, Steve. Congrats to both you and the company on what sounds like a great fit. All the best on the adventure that is to come.
congrats! thanks for writing up the emotional and the rational reasons you’re joining, too. (so few share both!)
Thanks Christina! Yes fit and complementing each other was in large part why I joined. I was going to link to this but didn’t want to take away from the post, but this is really spot on – http://stevecheney.com/founder-employee-fit/
Awesome news Steve. Congratulations and looking forward to hearing more.
congrats! keep up the awesome!
Thanks so much michael!
Really excited to see what all these developers will come up with. The beacons are indeed beautiful and simplistic in design. Congratulations Steve!
Congrats Steve! This looks and sounds like an amazing opportunity, best of luck!!
I get my Estimote beacons tomorrow, and I can’t wait. I’m stoked to see you joining the team!
so psyched for you steve. great post.
Thanks Charles. Super excited to have you involved.
Hello Steve, very interesting indeed.
I just wanted to make a remark or ask you a question because I have been developing an app for these beacons and there is a point where I don’t know if it is exactly how it’s commented.
I believe that the beacons can only wake up an app that is latent in the background if the cell phone is shut off, but it is impossible to interact if the app has been closed for good because of Bluetooth library’s incompatibility.
Do you know something about this?
Thanks and congrats!
Thanks for sharing Steve and good luck !
Steve – congratulations.
Quick question – do you see an interest in the smartphone industry for 30cm / 1′ accurate GPS positioning? Most chips will get your phone to within, say, 15 metres, but do you think there would be an interest in positioning a phone to within a foot / 30cm?
We have the technology to do this simply and for free (we offer it for a lot of money to the commercial market), but just wondering if anyone in this consumer market would be interested if it was for free?
Great new Steve. All the best.
I hope you’ll be able to find time for blogging in your hectic schedule.
Great story. Congratulations.
I can’t recall when something like this has so caught my imagination. BLE applications are not only seemingly limitless, there’s true utility here…and utility is next.
I learned about Estimote from an early video interview Scoble posted. I’ve mentioned Estimote to numerous friends and colleagues over the last several months, as the applications are so deep, broad and inspiring. From telecommunications engineers, who could announce their arrival to clients’s equipment automatically (“we’re reliable, accountable”), to an information science consultant who is helping to develop an app for a major public library (“our App will direct you to the book/document you’re looking for”).
Steve – can you describe more what you describe as the supply side network effects? Thanks
Hi Andy – The supply / ubiquity of BLE (in smartphones) lowered the barriers for developers to produce apps that solved meaningful problems immediately (e.g. navigation, proximity networking, contactless payments) when iBeacon was introduced. Or the cost of the software / apps became insignificant because of the built in value of the hardware.
Also the supply side economies of scale in mobile made BLE / ARM so low cost that they extend the economics to embedded (non-mobile) applications (beacons) overnight too.
Isn’t the more exciting network effect in the behavioral data? As first mover, Estimote will start learning about how consumers operate and can incorporate that value into acquiring more customers, which in effect snowballs both the proliferation and usefulness of having Estimote in your store. I don’t think anyone knows how defensible that data asset is yet (ex: if a single corporation, like Target, creates their own beacon system will they glean as useful behavioral data as Estimote spread across 1000 brands?) but it’s very interesting