Enabling Macworld/iWorld with iBeacons

We were asked by IDG World Expo to help showcase iBeacons at the Macworld/iWorld 2014 expo that is going on this week in San Francisco. We make small USB powered beacons called Bleu Stations and have been involved in proximity on iOS for the last couple of years supporting geofencing and iBeacon technology with our apps on iOS and the Mac. We were excited to see what we could do with iBeacons at the show. We focused on using iBeacons in a way that was both exciting and appropriate for the event. We settled on check-in to speed up people getting their badges and a game to help people investigate the show floor and highlight how beacons can help explore large environments.

Check-in process

One of the key areas was to Beacon-enable the check-in process. Macworld/iWorld has tens of thousands of participants that check in over a very short period of time, and making that process smooth is critical to a successful event. In preparation for this event, all the people that registered for the conference were sent out a customized link to a Beacon-enabled Passbook pass. The pass contains information on the event and barcode that is specific to their show badge. We installed our Bleu Station beacons in the pre-registration area and set them up to match the settings on the Passbook pass. When a person walks in the front entrance for Moscone North, the pass is automatically shown on the lock screen of their iPhone (assuming they have an iPhone–it is Macworld after all–and have bluetooth turned on). A quick swipe on the phone and a barcode scan at the pre-registration station and you have your badge. The check-in process took me 45 seconds to get through registration. It was fast and painless.

The range on the beacons was surprising far. In these large open areas, Bluetooth signals travel a long way. Our Bleu Stations have a range of about 150 feet and we had to reduce the power on them to make sure the coverage was just in the main check-in. As more people arrive, this might need to be adjusted since high density of people can lower the signal range. I used our Bleu Setup app to reduce the power to adequately cover the registration areas.

Scavenger Hunt

We also wanted do something fun and engaging on the show floor. Working with Tom Benson of PassJoy and IDG, we came up with the idea of a Mac-themed scavenger hunt. Since it is the 30th Anniversary to the Mac, we decided to celebrate it with signage that shows all the different Mac case types over the last 30 years, and spread the signs out throughout Moscone and base the scavenger hunt on those signs. We collected Mac case information and photos from Wikipedia, and IDG made some amazing displays that really celebrate the Mac. We created 63 different passes, one for each case type of the Mac. The passes were created on PassMarket from iMobile3 using their pass creation web interface. PassMarket also has a full web API to create passes, but we stuck with the web interface for this event. (Note: we are a PassMarket partner that helps beacon-enable their loyalty program).

It was fun to remember all the different case types and play the “what was I doing when I had that Mac” game. I also had some interesting discussions on Twitter on correct identification and name of Macs over the years. I got so excited about it, I made a video of the Mac cases (completely unrelated to the scavenger hunt, but I couldn’t help myself).

For the scavenger hunt, we selected one Mac case type per sign (there are four signs) to be the “winning” Macs. Each sign is iBeacon-enabled and has about 16 Mac case types shown on the sign. The participants start out by scanning in a beacon-enabled Welcome pass that explains the rules of the game. The pass is downloaded from PassMarket’s web service and installed in the person’s Passbook on iOS 7. We decide to use Passbook passes since passes are beacon-enabled and don’t require installing an app. The front of the pass gives them a clue to the location of the first sign. Passes in passbook also have a feature to specify a message that can be displayed when in range of a specific iBeacon. When the participant finds the first sign, a hint message is triggered by the nearby beacon and shown on the lock screen. For example, a hint might be “A Geometrically Named Mac” (meaning the Mac Cube), and the person would scan in the barcode for the PowerMac G4 Cube on the sign. Note: We didn’t use that hint, so it isn’t a spoiler!

The participants repeat this process for 4 signs, collect four passes that have “stars” on them, and then go to the Macworld LIVE check-in desk for the prizes.

A couple of key areas are important in this game and the way it uses iBeacons. The game can’t be completed prior to arrival, since the first pass only has a clue to the first sign, and that first sign is only available once the player is on the show floor. Aside from preventing spoilers, it highlights that iBeacons should be used as a reference, and not something that protects a private resource. iBeacon should be used in tandem with other ways to verify the person’s location and access. iBeacons are not a form of security, but a way to improve and further engage a user. We wanted to highlight that type of interaction.

Someone playing the game could scan in all the passes to find the winning passes, but that would still accomplish the goal of the scavenger hunt of going through the show floor and engaging with the 30 Years of the Mac. Using iBeacons makes it more fun and engaging since people have to know some Mac trivia to proceed quickly.

Also, passes can be shared from Passbook, but since each pass has a unique code each time it is added to passbook, a shared pass is only valid of the first person that uses it. PassMarket has a quick and easy to redeem passes since it is key to their loyalty program.

Tuning to the environment for the game

Since Moscone is a large venue with thousands of people attending Macoworld/iWorld, we had to tune our beacons to the environment. Even though the beacon-enabled signs are pretty far apart, we didn’t want any overlap between the beacon signals causing confusion and displaying multiple passes on the lock screen. We walked through the game areas and tweaked the power settings and placement to avoid this.

Visit us

Macworld/iWorld 2014 starts tomorrow and we are excited to see how folks react to using iBeacons in both the check-in and the scavenger hunt. Tweet with the hashtag #MacworldExpo2014 as you experience the game, and visit us at booth 1209 on the show floor if you have any questions or just want to chat about iBeacons.