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The Three B's - Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE and Beacons

11-19-2018 04:54 PM
Esri Regular Contributor
2 0 806

Building native apps using AppStudio for ArcGIS allows you to integrate all sorts of cool hardware with your app. The hardest part is knowing how to communicate with the hardware, and what to do with the information that you can get from (or send to) it. The following intends to be an overview of the three B's - Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE and beacons, which may help you decide which of these you might need to learn more about, to solve your hardware communication requirements.


In AppStudio 3.0, we introduced support for classic Bluetooth connectivity. The most common use of classic Bluetooth for many years has been by GNSS vendors to connect their receivers to devices. You can also communicate with other sensors using Bluetooth, such as laser rangefinders and environmental sensors. The GNSS Info sample in AppStudio demonstrates how you can connect to a device with Bluetooth. To learn more about this sample see this blog.

Bluetooth LE

In AppStudio 3.1, we added beta support for Bluetooth low energy (LE). A subset of Bluetooth, as the name suggests, Bluetooth LE uses less power and is ideal for more frequent transmission of smaller amounts of data. Code samples of these are a little harder for us to offer you, as typically the devices that transmit data via Bluetooth LE, do so with proprietary information. The most prolific Bluetooth LE devices in the community are fitness devices. To use your Garmin or Fitbit device you need to connect to a proprietary app to see the information: for example, steps, distance, and calories burned. You will be able to use AppStudio's Bluetooth LE components to detect Bluetooth LE devices, but typically you wont be able to interpret the data that is transmitted. Here is a sample that demonstrates connecting to a fitness device. You may not be able to use this exactly, but it shows how to get started. Once a known device is found: a known service, characteristic and descriptor is also detected by the sample.

Services, characteristics and descriptors are how devices package information that they want to share via Bluetooth LE. For more information (including a diagram of how these are related) see the BluetoothLEDevice page in our API Reference. Note:  We are working to add more description and samples here!

One of our friends, GPS-IT, have already used AppStudio's Bluetooth LE support to create an app that communicates with their very own hardware! Their platemeter device is used to measure pasture volumes and the accompanying iOS and Android apps built with AppStudio, receive the measurement values from the hardware via Bluetooth LE.


In coming releases of AppStudio we will be adding specific support for beacons. You can consider beacons as a subset of Bluetooth LE devices. They use the same LE protocol, but make identifier information more readily available, suitable for create alerts and triggers when interacting with the beacons.

And because this is not complex enough, when reading about beacons, you will see two terms: iBeacon and Eddystone. In short, these are the Apple (iBeacon) and Google (Eddystone) ways of communicating with beacons, but they don't limit which device you use to communicate with the beacon. One is not necessarily better than the other, they are just different. In AppStudio we've made progress with iBeacon properties first, and will share more about our beacon support in coming blogs and releases.

You might be thinking: why beacons? The most common beacon use case is that of an interactive shop or gallery. Imagine entering a museum, and when you buy your ticket you are directed to launch the museum tour guide app. In the foyer area the app will show you general info about the museum. As you enter a gallery space, information about the room and the collection you are about to see, is shown (or dictated) to you. As you approach an individual object, information about that specific object is shown to you. This guided navigation can be achieved using beacons located near each object, or entrance to a space.  This is a great way for keeping propriety information on site. The user can only see or interact with the information, whilst they at your venue. Retailers also use a similar pattern to engage with a customer: as you approach an item or location in the store, targeted advertising or specials can be shared with the user.


Knowing whether to use Bluetooth or Bluetooth LE is very much dependent on the hardware you want to integrate with your app, and the hardware itself may restrict what type or amount of information you can receive from (or send to) it. We are keen to hear what Bluetooth hardware you have or would like to integrate with your AppStudio app, and look forward to expanding more on these concepts in more blogs and in our AppStudio help.