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Beacon Roundup: What Percentage Of Americans Leave Bluetooth On, Anyway?

Answering our readers’ beacon questions — and breaking down the Physical Web.

For physical businesses looking to communicate with — and retarget — in-store shoppers, understanding beacon technology is a must.

For this reason, we addressed seven major myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of beacons in this piece published last week. Happily, readers still wanted to know more — and we realized that plenty of confusion still surrounds projects like Google’s Physical Web.

Below, answers to additional questions raised by our readers following the initial discussion.

What percentage of American phones do beacons work on?

The best way to address this question is to ask this: What percentage of consumers have Bluetooth turned on so that beacons could theoretically communicate with their device automatically?

Beaconstac reported in 2016 that in North America 45 percent of mobile users enable Bluetooth across devices. Rover Labs determined in 2015 that the figure was around 40 percent, with some regional factors edging it up to 50 percent. So: The most current research suggests that, at present, in the range of 40 to 50 percent of consumers leave Bluetooth turned on, making their devices easily receptive to beacon messages.

Obviously, marketers rolling out beacon programs would like to see this figure higher. As of Q1 2016, there were over 4 million beacons deployed globally — so what can be done to encourage users to turn Bluetooth on?

For a start, educating users is key. It’s an oft-repeated myth that turning Bluetooth on drains battery life — which isn’t the case. Retailers can offer a section in thier app or even in-store signage that clarifies this, which can go a long ways towards getting customers to adapt. Another method? Offering free wi-fi. Businesses can then send out notifications to users who have connected to wi-fi, asking them to turn their Bluetooth on to receive personalized discounts and offers.

And what about those retailers who would prefer that customers never have to download an app to receive beacon messages at all? More on this as it relates to the Physical Web, below.

What about the physical web? And how does it relate to beacons?

The Physical Web is an open-source method of interacting with beacons introduced by Google last summer. The aim of the Physical Web is to make it simpler for objects in the real world to communicate with consumers’ smartphones in the age of the Internet of Things.

Essentially, the idea is that, as the proliferation of “smart devices” continues, it just isn’t practical to expect consumers to download a separate app each time they want to let a product or device communicate with their smartphone.

How do beacons come into play? Well, the Physical Web is designed to be powered through beacons that support Eddystone-URL.

Here’s how that works: In order for consumers to get messages while in a store, in an airport, and more, they generally need to have an app that supports that store’s beacons. But Google, which has always prioritized the mobile web over apps as part of a seeming proxy war with Apple, has attempted to solve this quandary by taking a different approach altogether: Who needs apps, the tech giant asked. Use the browser instead.

As MarketingLand’s Barry Levine put it in a recent piece dissecting the Physical Web, this beacon-to-browser solution does more than just take care of beacons’ too-many-apps issue: It also allows any location or any physical object with a compatible beacon to broadcast a web address.

“A URL from a nearby restaurant, for instance, could lead to a web page with the menu,” Levine wrote. “You could even leave your name for a table and get pinged when it’s ready. A movie poster becomes a portal to video clips from that movie.”

Find our full primer on the Physical Web here. For more on the differences between Google’s Eddystone and Apple’s iBeacon format, here.