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iBeacons, Beacons, and Bluetooth Tags: Learn the Lingo

What is iBeacon? And how are businesses putting these ‘iBeacon’ contraptions everywhere? Here’s the lowdown on basic beacon lingo, and how to know whether you’re using it right.

What is iBeacon?

Did you know that basically no one actually buys “iBeacons?” This is because iBeacon is often fundamentally misunderstood. The Bluetooth beacon, as pictured below, is not actually “an iBeacon.” iBeacon describes only the protocol used by the beacon (again, the hardware below) to talk to other technologies.

Note that most beacons on the market can use either iBeacon OR Eddystone (from Google) to communicate with other technology. That means, while you may want to use specify that you use iBeacon, you’re still not actually buying one.

“What is a Beacon?”

The beacon itself, you buy. You can touch it, take it apart, look at the batteries. It’s the physical hardware. But this is also where it gets interesting:

“Do I need beacons or Bluetooth tags?”

Trick question! They’re the same thing. These two terms will continue popping up more and more often as beacons (or Bluetooth tags) grow in popularity. The idea of the “beacon” is more about marketing than anything. “Beacon” in many ways describes what the hardware actually does. It also recalls the idea of the iBeacon, making it easy to connect the two.

Bluetooth tag, on the other hand, is a more straight-forward and traditional term. If you’ve ever heard of RFID, you probably know RFID tags. It’s the same with Bluetooth. For businesses using these tools, Bluetooth is simply a different kind of technology that can be used for many of the same uses as RFID, UWB, and so on. These industries (like manufacturing, healthcare, or logistics) “tag” is a rather traditional and well-known term.

Thus, if you’re not sure if you want to say “beacon” or “Bluetooth tag,” you can just examine your vertical or use case. Luckily, you won’t be wrong no matter what you choose.

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Whether you choose beacons or tags, know you’re working with the same, incredible technology.

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