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What's about Beacons, NFC and QR's?

CloudGuide

Cultural institutions continually strive to make use of the latest technological developments, finding a balance between level of innovation and appreciation of the pure art. A lot of correct, and less correct, info has been circulating about three wireless technologies related to such fields of innovation, i.e. QR codes, the iBeacon protocol launched by Apple, and the NFC (Near Field Communication) RFID radios. At CloudGuide we often get questions from our clients regarding these technologies, so time to write a post about it and find out who the winner is!

QR codes are a graphical representation - encoding - of any text, such as a URL or any other arbitrary text. They could be considered to be the 3D successors of the 2D bar-codes, which are familiar to everyone. Just like conventional bar-codes, QR codes need a special software, an app, to “see” the text they carry inside. Many people have such QR reader apps installed on their smartphones, but for convenience, the CloudGuide apps include a scanner built-in to the app, under the Scan button in the dashboard. The amount of information that can be contained in one QR code depend on the version of the algorithm and the level of “error-correction” added to the QR code. This error correction algorithm adds extra information to the graphical representation of the QR code so that if part of the code is damaged, it still can be read, enhancing greatly its overall reliability. In any case, the QR codes by CloudGuide do not suffer any of those limitations. Also, due to the special algorithm applied, they can also be scanned by any QR scanner app from outside of the CloudGuide apps, in which case the user will still see relevant information from our landing pages and will be invited to check out all your content by downloading the app from the app stores, giving more leads to your content. QR codes are supported by both the Android and the iOS operating systems, and as you can print them yourself, they virtually incur no cost.

NFC, or Near Field Technology in full, is a conventional radio communication over very short distances, also known as short-distance RFID tags. The tags can be read-only, or some more expensive models can be found that allow the tags to be overwritten multiple times. NFC tags can carry any type of data, including binary, and they can be found in capacities of up to 4 kB. The tags are cheap, think about 1 euro per tag, and do not require any maintenance because the passive tags have no battery. The big problem with NFC is that it is currently only supported by a limited number of Android phones, with no support at all from Apple devices. The irony is that Apple's latest device, the iPhone 6, actually has an NFC radio on board, but only allows its use for the new Apple Pay service. Another characteristic that could be problematic in some installations is the fact that the visitor has to be very close, up to 5 cm maximum distance to the tag to be able to scan it. As CloudGuide statistics show that up to three-fourth of its users are iOS device users, we have decided not to support this technology for now.

Last but not least is the iBeacon protocol, as specified by Apple, with many different brands selling compatible beacons at between 20 and 40 euros, depending on quantity and battery size. The beacons are small hardware radios sold in different sizes and colors, and typically have a battery life of between 1 and 5 years, depending on many factors. CloudGuide recommends beacons from Kontakt.io, as they feature among the best autonomy in the industry, greatly reducing your maintenance costs. The beacons can be hidden behind, under or next to the exhibit and can be configured with a special, free configuration app usually provided by the manufacturer. Of special interest here is the ability to control the transmission power of the beacons, enabling you to reach visitors' devices are distances much further than the very limited 5 cm offered by NFC tags, we think 10 meters would be adequate in many cases. The iBeacon protocol is supported by both Android and iOS operating systems, and configuration guidance is available right from the CMS, where you will find the exact UUID, Major ID and Minor ID – the 3 configuration parameters for each beacon – for each exhibit.

The following table compares some of the most important characteristics:

 QR codesNFC tagsiBeacon beacons
Data size++++++
AutonomyUnlimitedUnlimited2-4 years
Device supportAndroid + iOSAndroidAndroid + iOS
Scan proximity< 15 cm< 5 cm< 200 m
Cost per tagEUR 0EUR 1EUR 25
Market knowlege+++-++

 

And now the big question: which technology is better? First of all, it has to be said that all technologies are different, and eventually serve different needs. However, from the above comparison we can deduct that for cultural institutions and monuments, QR codes and iBeacon technology are more suited, and in spite of the usual rapid changes in technology, they are expected to remain the top favorites for at least 5 more years. Taking such devaluation of technology into account is important to protect your investment, even though, with CloudGuide subscriptions you are inherently protected as they develop with the trends in the market, with no extra charges or new investments. Between QR codes and iBeacon technology we would recommend QR codes for those seeking a low level of innovation, say entry-level, as it basically bears no cost and can be installed in a matter of hours, and for those institutions looking to offer true innovation to their visitors, we would recommend to implement iBeacon technology.

So how can you make use of iBeacon technology or QR codes through CloudGuide? Both technologies are configurable directly from the Content Management System, our renowned platform for managers of cultural institutions and content editors. Support for QR codes is provided free of charge and included with all plans, while iBeacon support can be contracted as an add-on pack to your existing subscription or included in any of our premium subscriptions.

If you would like more information on how CloudGuide can make wireless technologies work for you, do not hesitate to contact your representative.





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