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MacBeacon and Locate for iBeacon: An inexpensive way for developers to design and test iBeacons

iBeacons are a hot topic and getting hotter. It seems like we're hearing a lot about retailers and others who are chomping at the bit to use the short-range, highly focused location technology for things as varied as in-building directions or targeted advertising. But how are developers able to start creating iBeacon-enabled apps without having one of the Bluetooth devices on hand? That's where some tools from Washington, DC-based Radius Networks can help out.

The company recently announced MacBeacon (US$9.99), which allows any Bluetooth 4.0 (Bluetooth Low Energy) equipped Mac to be set up as a test iBeacon. If a developer is just getting his or her feet wet in the iBeacon world, the company even has a free iOS app called Locate for iBeacon available.

MacBeacon allows developers to create beacon profiles that provide full iBeacon functionality. For developers who want to test iBeacon-enabled apps, it's a great way to see how the apps react to proximity to iBeacons. Devs can give the iBeacon a name for labeling purposes (it's not broadcasted by the beacon), generate a UUID, set group identifiers and adjust the beacon's power level. A full help page provides both an introduction to iBeacons as well as assistance in using the app.

The Locate for iBeacon app does exactly what the name implies -- it locates iBeacons. But it does more than that, providing distance measurements between the iOS device and the iBeacon, a way to calibrate the iBeacon and also a way to turn an iOS device into an iBeacon itself. A developer could theoretically just use the Locate for iBeacon app for testing purposes.

Radius Networks also has iBeacon hardware development kits available (US$99.99 to $149.99). Based on the popular Raspberry Pi single-board PC, these kits feature one or two Bluetooth LE transmitters and come with iBeacon software that works with Apple's iBeacon SDK. The company has developer tools available, including the Message Radius platform (for pushing notifications to devices when they're within a certain range of an iBeacon) and a Proximity Kit API for setting up localized geofences.

TUAW reported earlier this week on how retailer Macy's and shopping app Shopkick teamed up to use iBeacon technology in a few flagship stores. With tools like those from Radius Networks making it easier for developers to implement the technology, you can look forward to seeing iBeacons everywhere you go.

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