estimote beacon and cell phone

Nearables

Nearables is a cute name for a product developed by startup Estimote, along with its partner – design firm IDEO. Nearables are an application of beacon technology that I hope evokes some thought to take you through the weekend.

“Beacons are a little bit like URLs for the physical world,” says Steve Cheney, cofounder and senior vice president. “We don’t know exactly how it’s all going to work out, from the experience level, but I think the apps you use the most will start to integrate beacon technology in a way where you assume it was always that way.”

So here is the basic idea. They are about the size of a postage stamp and they communicate with nearby smartphones that have the appropriate app. The stickers store basic commands that get activated based on your phone passing nearby (hence the name). Because they are Internet enabled, there are a variety of things that they can do. In the article, they suggest applications such as muting your phone when you get into a movie theater, turning on your coffee maker when you enter your kitchen in the morning, or sending you a customized coupon when you pass by the discounted product in the store. The stickers can have small images on them, so a user passing by can anticipate what might happen.

My Take

Here are my questions. First, there isn’t much feedback, error prevention, or error recovery inherent in this concept. These are design priorities we learn in HF 101 because of how important they are to achieving a good user experience. Having your coffee machine start brewing when you don’t want it to is a big enough mistake that it might cancel out the benefits of 50 correct actions. The apps, the stickers, and the user profiles and preferences would have to pretty accurate, sensitive, and precise. Otherwise, I can see these as being a great plaything for designers but struggling to find widespread acceptance in the market.

But I really do like the idea. I plan to spend a few creative moments imagining use cases that they might be a good fit for.

Your Turn

So spend some time imagining possible use cases for these stickers. The ones in the article are pretty standard and I suspect could be implemented using previous generation of localization technologies. I hope you will think a little more creatively and solve some real user pain points that only small, inexpensive internet-connected stickers such as these can solve.

I look forward to reading about what you share – here in the comments.

Image Credit:Jonathan Nalder

3 thoughts on “Nearables”

  1. Hi Marc. I too like the concept of the smart interface when it is of benefit to the customer. The idea of coupons on hand is a particular favorite. However, it seems a little “Minority Report”-level invasive. In other words, I love the thought of immediate access but not the thought of this technology directing my decisions as a consumer.

  2. Interesting concept !
    Could be useful to unlock doors or locks in general especially in dark and underground environments with low visibility.

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