When it comes to the development of micro-location solutions, there have been no shortage of technologies around which developers have rallied. From old-school GPS and NFC, to Bluetooth Low Energy and the rise of scalably deployable beacons, the question is not if we’ll successfully deliver contextual digital content and analytics to physical spaces, but how.
Philips grabbed headlines early last week, with its announcement of an “intelligent LED in-store lighting” system the company is piloting at a retailer in Düsseldorf. The lighting unit uses visual light communication (VLC) to enable LED fixtures to relay location and product information to smartphones via a companion app (much in the way beacons use BLE). Philips has yet to reveal what technology it’s using for communication, or what devices are compatible, but coverage in the Verge for one, considers lighting and beacon technology a “surprisingly logical” pairing (albeit while questioning its cost effectiveness).
Doug Thompson, over at beacon-blogging authority Beekn, however, delves a little deeper. VLC, as he concludes, is “no BLE.” Although, as he writes, the concept appears initially a “more effective way to do indoor wayfinding, and to send messages as your customer’s wander the aisles,” there is, he says, a catch: “The lights need to be, well, on.”
Of course the lights would be on, you think, it’s a store.
Actually, as Thompson explains, “[VLC] won’t work when your phone is in a pocket or purse.” Oh.
While Thompson believes beacons and BLE still have a clear advantage in micro-location marketing and customer experience crafting, Philips’ innovation suggests for the author the future won’t be owned by one technology alone.
For Footmarks’ CEO Preston Reed, however, the war to deliver digital intelligence to physical spaces is far more black and white. For Preston, BLE vs. VLC looks a lot like the infamous Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD shakedown of the last half decade (and the VHS vs. Beta war that preceded it). Blu-Ray emerged as the clear winner through wide consumer and industry support, while HD-DVD is not so slowly fading to obscurity.
Ultimately, as Preston reminds us — it’s not the hardware that matters. It’s about the user experience the hardware delivers. And here, Footmarks has the edge.