Kontakt’s product releases point to a new phase of beacon evolution
Its new ecosystem adds lightweight card beacons, IFTTT, light and motion sensors, long battery life, NFC and RFID to iBeacon/Eddystone beacons.
New products from a Kracow, Poland-based international company give a glimpse of where beacons could be heading.
The products from Kontakt.io — three hardware, one software — set up a beacon ecosystem that:
- makes beacons mobile on the thinnest-ever credit-card sized devices.
- adds beacons to the IFTTT ecosystem through another vendor’s software module, where consumers or businesses can easily set up “if this/then that” interactions between systems and devices. Direct integration with IFTTT and workflow automator Zapier is in the works.
- allows a user to interact with the beacon system in multiple ways: if they have the lightweight beacon as a loyalty or ID card, if they have a Kontakt-compatible app, if they have an IFTTT-compatible app, or if they have an Eddystone-compatible browser.
- allows lightweight beacons to become part of a real-time tracking system for people, machinery or products.
- allow beacons in multiple locations to be remotely monitored.
- turns beacons into sensing devices that can manage their own power.
- turns beacons into NFC devices that can be used as part of a commerce authentication system, or RFID devices for tracking products.
Previously, Kontakt Beacon Ambassador Marcin Kasz told me, the company’s product line consisted of a couple of beacon models plus supporting professional services. Here’s the new product lineup, the first three of which are hardware:
- The Beacon Pro, with a USB connection for configuration setup as well as for remote power, plus non-rechargeable batteries that the company says have a lifespan of five years without changing. There is also an NFC tag, a range of 70 meters and sensors that track light, motion and acceleration to control when the beacon is turned on or off.
- A credit card-sized Card Beacon (see image below) that has a range of 50 meters. Kontakt said this two-millimeter-thick device is the thinnest card beacon on the market. It can include either a RFID or NFC tag, and can run for up to 14 months with power savings enabled. It also has a motion sensor, so it can transmit less info or switch off automatically when it’s stationary. Standard price is $29 each, lower for bulk purchases.
- The Gateway (see image at top of page), which tracks the Beacon Pro and the Card Beacons, up to their respective ranges.
- The Location Engine software, which assembles the data collected by the Gateway and presents it as analytics on a dashboard map that can also be shown as a heatmap to indicate where Card Beacons are showing up most. It offers a Trigger feature, so that certain actions can be programmed based on proximity, like sending an email when a customer with a Card Beacon loyalty card walks into a store. Other possible triggers: displaying a favorite route to the customer or providing coupon incentives to her smartphone. And, because of the IFTTT/Zapier integration, this beacon system can be used to trigger a huge number of interactions, like automatically unlocking a business’s front door and turning on the air conditioner when a Card Beacon is near.
The Card Beacon and Beacon Pro support both iBeacon and Eddystone standards. The Eddystone standard from Google means that a user doesn’t need an app to interact with a beacon but can do so with a Eddystone-compatible mobile web browser. This browser can automatically see a web link being transmitted by the beacon, doing away with the app install hurdle.
Kasz points to several unique features in the new product releases, helping Kontakt to differentiate itself from competitors like Bluvision. In addition to the thinnest-beacon-on-a-card, these include the availability of NFC and RFID and a “simple SDK” that needs to insert only one line of code into an app to make it compatible with Kontakt beacons.
But it’s the suite of interactive technologies — including NFC, RFID, sensors, long battery life, USB communication to beacons, beacon management through a Gateway, IFTTT/Zapier, lightweight beacons and triggers — that indicate a new wave of use cases for this technology. Instead of ceiling-based beacons, think of Tile’s personal beacons, but with more utility.
Kasz points to a recent assessment by ABI Research that paints a bright future for the beacon, far beyond its customary role as a location pinger hanging from a retailer’s ceiling:
“Though beacon retail technology is grabbing headlines, the future of BLE beacon shipments is not in retail. ABI Research forecasts the amount of BLE beacon shipments made in the personal tracking, IoT, and real-time location system (RTLS)/asset tracking markets will easily surpass those in retail.”
Instead of a beacon parked in the ceiling of some megastore, dully sending out its location signal, the Kontakt ecosystem — especially when Card Beacons drop in price to pennies, as they are likely to do — suggests use cases that create fully interactive systems in stadiums, factories or streets, as well as in stores, and that far exceed the earlier visions for geofencing, NFC and RFID.