iBeacon Warfare

Today I took my three and six year old daughters out to a local mall in Bellevue, WA to buy shoes, eat frozen yogurt, and scan for iBeacons. You have to start them young.

Our local mall is in the backyard of Microsoft's main campus and has prominent Microsoft and Apple stores. They're about 25 meters apart and on different floors of the mall. As I walked the mall and scanned, I found four beacons with two different proximity ids (essentially 'owners'). As I hunted down the first two using signal strength to play a game of 'hotter/colder', it led me to a point a few feet away from the front door of the Microsoft store and said I was 3 meters away from the iBeacon based on signal strength. "Cool," I thought "Microsoft is embracing iBeacons too!" Looking around, I was puzzled -- no beacons in sight but I figured they were hidden behind a panel or some-such.

I'm curious about iBeacons -- how they're being used, whether they're allowing retails stores to have the same great customer interaction as online stores. I've heard Apple is using them innovatively in their stores so that was my next stop, Apple Store app installed on my iPad Mini. Curiously, as I entered the doors of the Apple store, all four iBeacon signals came in strong! Hold on -- weren't two of those iBeacons downstairs at the Microsoft store entrance? They have the same proximity id! How could they show up as the same signal strength in two places, 25 meters away from each other?

After noodling for a while, I wonder if those two mystery beacons were mounted in the Apple Store, perhaps with directional antennas? That might explain the strange signal strength pattern that made the beacons appear 3 meters away at both store entrances. I thought, "how innovative -- I'll bet when customers carrying an iPhone with the Apple Store app loaded approach the Microsoft store, perhaps they get a notification from Apple enticing them away..." A friend of mine thought perhaps Apple is being more subtle -- you see the app gets a notification when it crosses a signal strength boundary, but it gets to decide what to do with it -- what if it's just silently noting to a cloud database each time an iPhone user (with the Apple Store app installer) enters the Microsoft store?

Now that's an innovative use of iBeacons, tracking competitive customer visits...