iBeacons – not only for dystopian targeted advertising!


Contrary to every news story about iBeacons, they can be used for things besides pushing coupons and ads inside stores. In fact, they can even be used for something you’d want!

Let me describe my last experience at my local movie theater chain (Marcus Theatres) and how it could be improved with iBeacons.

First, Marcus has an app that lets me buy tickets. It’s built with some kind of web-native hybrid tool (like Cordova) so the UI is janky, but it works and it’s not hard to use. It emails me a QR code ticket that I could print out (yeah right!) or show on my phone to the cashier. And it will also add the ticket to Passbook (soon to be called Wallet), which is what I obviously use.

Once I’m within the geofence of the theater, the Passbook app alerts me. This can happen either when I’m driving into the parking lot, or impatiently staring at my phone while walking to the entrance of the building. (Background geo-fencing is not always super immediate or accurate because its using cell tower triangulation, not GPS, and it’s trying to conserve battery.)

OK, I’m in the lobby, newly remodeled with several kiosks that I can just scan my QR code and get tickets. Like a boss, I bring up the QR code on my Apple Watch and scan. Tickets pop out. Dang, that was pretty awesome!


Now time for popcorn. I head over to the concessions, maybe 20 yards away. Cashier asks if I have a Marcus rewards card. I do, and the “card” is in Passbook.

I wasn’t sure if I could pick out the card on the Watch, so I pull out my phone. Boom, Marcus Theatres Passbook is right there on the lock screen, swipe and….

Crap! That’s the pass for my tickets! “Uhh, sorry, this is my first time doing this” I say to the cashier, like a moron.

When you swipe a pass from the lock screen, it doesn’t actually open Passbook, only the specific pass, so I have to unlock the phone, Spotlight to Passbook (because who knows where that app is buried), and open the card. This takes place over probably 15 seconds, but feels like 15 minutes.

OK, rewards card scanned (for what rewards, I don’t even know) and on my way to my seat.

But that’s not all. My tickets made a surprise return to my lock screen days later!

Marcus Theatres has several locations. One day I’m at Menards (local big box home center) which happens to be next to a Marcus theater, though not even the one I bought my tickets for last week. While I’m inside the store (which is probably at least 500 yards from the theater) I pull out my phone to check my shopping list and there is the Passbook notification for my expired tickets. In fact, the whole time I’m at the store it stays on my lock screen. I had to open Passbook and delete the tickets to get rid of it.

Throughout this experience there were three minor hiccups that could be solved with iBeacons.


First, there is only one time and place I need to have my ticket QR code: when I’m in the theater lobby ready to scan it. After that, maybe I want to reference it for my seat number (but I already got printed ticket stubs). I certainly don’t need the Passbook notification when I’m driving in the parking lot, at the concession stand, or in my seat watching the movie.

A single iBeacon geofence in the lobby would have been perfect. One nice thing about iBeacons, the geofences respond in the background almost instantaneously. It’s not like longitude/latitude geofences which are slow and inaccurate.

Second, at the concession stand. That’s when I need my rewards card, not my tickets. A beacon right at the cashier (maybe even with the radio power low) would trigger my rewards card only when I’m right next to it, which is the only time and place I need it.

Third, the lingering ticket in Passbook. That’s solved with the iBeacon in the lobby. And checking the date on the ticket (if that’s possible). I certainly don’t want old tickets popping up next time I’m at the theater!

Whenever there is a situation where you need something on your iPhone (or Watch) at a specific time and place, maybe iBeacons are the solution. Put an iBeacon at the bus stop/stadium entrance/hotel room door/cashier/valet/boarding ramp/library, and access is only a swipe away!



But please, please, don’t send me a coupon for 20% off when I’m walking by a coffee shop!