iBeacons in the wild: the MacWorld/iWorld experience

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 | No Comments

PaulKentAt MacWorld/iWorld this week, IDG featured an iBeacon-enabled scavenger hunt.  Developed by Two Canoes Software out of Chicago, it also included a seemingly effective streamlining of the registration process.

As informed voices keep reminding us–Beacons don’t transmit content themselves, so one of the most key questions with any Beacon based  program is going to be what Mobile App is the Beacon communicating with.  In most event cases, I think the answer is going to be the dedicated Mobile App for the event, but in this case, IDG, went with Apple’s Passbook itself.

I asked Paul Kent, MacWorld/iWorld’s Vice President and General Manager, about this when we sat down for this (edited) interview during the show, starting with:

Brian Duggan: Can you give us an overview on your approach?

Paul Kent: We at Macworld bring a unique perspective (to the world of iBeacon and Events).  We are always trying to take Apple technology and put it to work in the show in some way.  This (iBeacon) is some of the more interesting stuff—the combinations of iBeacon technology with Passbook technology are things that have immediate and obvious implications for events.

Brian: How did you get started in this effort?

MacWorldExpo

Tim Perfitt of Two Canoes,
keeping busy at MacWorld

Paul: I went out looking for experts, and we have come up with solutions that are elegantly integrated into the show.  First, I put a Tweet out– “Anybody know anyone who is doing iBeacon implementations.”  And that got me in connection with Tim Perfitt from Two Canoes Software and Tom Benson from Passjoy.  I laid out the broad strokes of what I thought would be cool and they went to town with it.

Brian: And the results?

Paul: We are blown away by the numbers of people participating—we have taken minutes off of their registration time—they are walking by with their phones, the pass comes to the top–its what technology should be doing—seamlessly making things wonderful for people.

That’s the first way that people are connecting with iBeacon.  But then we have a more interesting thing: we like to do what I call sandboxing implementations where developers can try things out, if they are for the good of the attendees, and for the good of the show—like our Scavenger Hunt Project.  This Sandbox environment is a lot of what this show is about—how do we get this technology tested, in meaningful implementations that people can enjoy and benefit from, and the scavenger hunt hits that on all the marks.  It enhances the attendee experience, which is great from a show manager perspective. It’s a fun thing. It’s a relevant thing.  It’s using mobile technology in an advanced, progressively thinking way, so we are really happy with what’s gone on.

Brian: And what about the choice of Passbook?

Paul: From an event perspective, we’re excited to be bringing awareness to a Passbook implementation.  I think most folks think it’s a boarding pass technology or a Starbucks gift card, and that’s about it.  The scavenger hunt we are doing here is quite cool in that we’re bringing good awareness (about) the dynamic nature of “passes” changing, based around the context they are in.

Brian: Is this effort disconnected from your Mobile App?

Paul: No. People ask about why it’s not part of the (Event’s Mobile) app, but it doesn’t need to be a (public) part of the App.  Our registration company and App provider connects to it on the back end.

Brian: What do you think will come next in terms of your use of this technology, as it shows up over the next year across more events as well as in retail stores and MLB stadiums?

Paul: With ubiquitous use, and (increased) trust, there will be more we can do, such as with registration, which is the most obvious area.  But events are a location-aware problem—so there is much we can do—so much more with the interaction between attendees and exhibitors and speakers.  There are a lot of interesting places we can go with this.

Once exhibitors trust it, this can turn into a lead retrieval program. Being built into Passbook as part of iOS—its not a one-off thing—its going to be there. As more people do more with it, and the spec and the standard expands and they put more power in the developers hands, if Apple does that, it will expand the scope of what we can do with it.

We see it as nice native tools that are going to be able expand people’s experience at a show.  Make it a more intimate experience, a more seamless experience, to be able to do the things that they want to do: talk to exhibitors, get into the show, get more information, see who is in a room with them….

Brian: MacWorld is obviously part of IDG, which could offer a lot of opportunities for technologies like this to scale in years to come. Does IDG as a whole look to what you are doing here, and how it might apply to E3 and other leading IDG events?

Paul: All my colleagues are here, and are understanding what we are doing and how this may benefit them. There is nothing but good coming from what we have implemented here, so I would be highly surprised if we didn’t see some instances of this in the other events we do.