Over the last year, beacons have become so popular that they are already shifting fast from trials to mainstream deployments. So much so that, these proximity-based experiences have challenged mobile designers to think of user experience along new lines. So far, UX designers have been concerned about how their interface looks on a screen. To put it simply, they were more inclined on improving the ‘usability’ and ‘ease of use’ factors.
Though, simplicity and efficiency have always been at the very core of UX best practices, another factor that plays a crucial role today is how unobtrusive the app is, in the user’s experience. It is thus important for UX designers, to consider ‘physical space’ as an important dimension in their work.
A great user experience, especially in the case of beacons is one where the app, instead of grabbing a user’s attention, drives that attention towards enjoying a real-life experience and enhancing it with as little additional effort required as possible. Providing a seamless, frictionless experience, without the app screaming for attention is what makes the cut with users!
Tips to design a beacon-enabled app:
We covered the factors you need to keep in mind when developing a beacon-enabled app in an earlier post. Here we discuss a few best practices on how you can make the user experience smooth, frictionless and engaging.
1. Provide useful, contextual information: The most important feature of iBeacon technology is that it enables you to provide content to users, based on their location and context. We have covered how you can use beacons to ‘engage’ your customers rather than ‘annoy’ them in our earlier post on marketing with beacons. Beacons enable you to gather analytics, and other user information data and use it in myriad ways – from enhancing customer engagement to targeting customers with relevant offers and generating more revenue.
2. Factor in signal interference: Beacons transmit radio signals in the commonly used 2.4GHz band, and thus the signal strength received from a beacon varies widely because of interference. Beacon signals are actually radio waves, and can be absorbed by metals, walls, water etc. It’s important to take this into account when planning for when and how an action will be triggered in your app, on ‘detecting’ a beacon. Interference can affect beacon signal detection to a great deal, so it’s possible that a beacon is detected in a second, and it disappears in the next. This can lead to poor experience for the user. To deal with issues like this, you can do the following:
a) Let the beacons ranging (method used by the app to determine the distance to a particular beacon) go on for a few seconds, by setting a ‘threshold time’ for which a beacon should be detected for an action to be triggered.
b) Developing algorithms to average the results from beacon detection to tighten the margin of error. For example, sending a list of all ‘closeby items’ to users, and they can choose which item they need to know more about.
3. Be transparent about how user data will be used: iOS 8 provides for a new authorization model around Location Services (including iBeacon) to give users more control over how apps access location data.
The way it works is, your app needs to request permission to access a user’s location data even when the app is not open on the screen. This is called “always” authorization. iOS 8 requires you to provide a description of how your app will use the user’s location data. Informing users increases their trust in the app, and they will be happy to share their location information with you.
4. Factor in ‘background beacon monitoring’ : Most value that apps deliver to their users comes from the foreground usage. Truth is, the app needs to be active in the background to perform ranging: calculate distance to beacons in real time. If it’s shut down or running in the background, it can only keep monitoring for beacon region, that is checking if there are any beacons in range or not. When designing an app, thoroughly consider which mode enables your app to best solve the problem you’ve set out to tackle.
If you are planning a beacon pilot, take a look at Beaconstac, that includes everything you need to get started. Using Beaconstac you can set up your own campaign, without a developer’s help!
Examples of apps that ‘make the cut’ in great UX design:
Eggcellent, a restaurant in Tokyo that specialises in egg cuisine uses iBeacon technology for food orders and payments. Each table is equipped with a beacon, disguised in (egg-themed) porcelain. As soon as a customer places his mobile device close to the beacon, the menu app opens up.
Image Source: engadget
It even allows customers to view dishes liked by their friends, by linking the app to social networking sites. Once customers have had their meal, they can pay through the app, as the restaurant has a cashless checkout facility.
Another great example is the “SXSW Go” app that has been in the news lately for its great features. The app was iBeacon-enabled to catch up on the hype around this cutting-edge technology. The app hooks into over 1,000 beacons placed around the event’s official venues with an opt-in feature called Around Me. When an attendee checks in with the app, the app lets them know what’s happening nearby and who else has checked in recently. The idea was to make networking at the massive event a little bit easier.
Image Source: recode.net
Thus, designing a beacon-enabled app comes with its own set of challenges, and to truly reap the benefits of this technology, you need to ensure that your customers enjoy using the app, see value in it and would be happy to recommend it to others!