This week, I saw a new app on my Galaxy S4, apparently pushed after a recent software upgrade. Apparently, it was included with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3 and works on the Note 4 and is limited to versions of Android that are signed by Samsung, so no good on “rooted” phones. The app is called the Samsung Beamer and it looked to me as though it might be related to a technology that I’m intrigued by, and that is Beacons so I started to look into it. However, the app is not, on the face of it, related to that technology. (For those that don’t know, beacons are small, very cheap, Bluetooth low energy transmitters that can be detected by an app on your phone that can identify the beacon, so giving very precise geo-location.)
The Samsung Beamer app is based on technology that comes from MoBeam, a Palo Alto company that realised that there is a problem with coupons sent by barcodes to phones. It turns out that the typical laser scanner used in a supermarket cannot read a barcode or QR code when it’s displayed on a smartphone. The codes can be read on image scanners, but they cost twice what laser scanners cost.
The Beamer software puts a pattern on the display that the scanner can read. Mobeam’s technology sends pulses of light to the sensor in POS scanners and mimics the black-and-white sequencing of a standard barcode. So, instead of reading the reflection from a printed barcode, laser scanners receive identical information from pulses of light.
Combine the Beamer service app with a front end such as Beep’n’Go and special offers can be made that can be recognised at the cash desk. At the moment, Beep’n’Go only works in the US, but it can be used to store the details of loyalty cards and gift cards as well as tickets and event passes as well as special offers. Other coupon and clipping apps can also use the Beamer software. The key benefit of the technology is that it can exploit the existing installed base of laser scanners.
In June, Mobeam celebrated a million downloads of the Beep’n’go app from the Google App store and in October, it claimed 5 million. The latest version adds support for QR codes as well as barcodes.
It did occur to me that combining the service with a beacon on a shelf, or integrated into a display, delivers a complete way to link the sign to the checkout. I imagine an app on a smartphone detecting a beacon, popping up on the phone and offering a special deal to a customer, who can download the barcode data to the Beamer app. This means that stores that have existing barcode scanners – even self service ones – could exploit the technology of beacons in their stores with little or no infrastructure investment and without the need for NFC or other technology at the cash desk.
In a short look around the web while writing this article, I couldn’t find any iPhone apps for Mobeam, which is telling. I wondered if this was because Apple is moving towards NFC. However, I found a forum post that claimed that the app uses the infrared proximity sensor on the Samsung phones. As far as I know, Apple has this hardware on the iPhone 4 and 5, but the iPhone 6 may use a different technology (Apple applied for a patent for a “passive” proximity detector using audio, rather than infrared), Apple doesn’t say what technology it uses and at press time, I hadn’t been able to confirm if it uses infrared.
Whatever technology is used by Apple, the company really wants retailers to adopt its Apple Pay system, so a lack of support for Mobeam is not really surprising.