Building a Better Tour App Using iBeacons


Since Apple introduced iBeacons at WWDC in June last year, we've seen plenty of announcements from retailers who plan on using the technology to enhance the shopping experience. While there's no doubt that iBeacons can be valuable in commerce and provide an innovative way for businesses to interact with their consumers, iBeacons have the potential to impact a wide range of industries and become more than just the next great marketing tool.

The technology is powerful and easy to implement, and as an educational technologist, I believe it can make training more efficient, adaptable, and collaborative. I wanted to see for myself how I could take advantage of iBeacons to develop an educational app, so I ordered a set of Estimote beacons, fired up Xcode, and created a versatile audio tour app.

Estimote developer preview packs are $99/ 3 beacons and come in awesome packaging!

Estimote developer preview packs are $99/ 3 beacons and come in awesome packaging!

Audio Tour iOS App

App Icon

Most audio tours I've seen utilize bulky, outdated hardware. Since the devices have no knowledge of the user's location within an attraction, you are typically responsible for selecting the appropriate audio track for an exhibit or moving through an installation in a linear fashion. To solve this problem, my app uses Estimote beacons to automatically update the app's interface based on the closest exhibit. Since these beacons are much more accurate than GPS, you can press the play button once and walk through an entire museum without needing to touch the app again.


As you move from exhibit to exhibit, the app continuously monitors for beacons and updates the interface accordingly. If you're still listening to a track from a previous exhibit, the closest exhibit's information is queued.


You can immediately load the closest exhibit by tapping the Up Next button. Of course, you can also use the play/pause button or drag the audio playback progress bar when you need more control. 

I used images from an aquarium in the example application, but this app can be customized to work with any kind of tour and display different types of media. In fact, I'm currently working on a campus tour application and developing additional interactive features, so stay tuned!

If your organization is interested in using iBeacons, I'd love to chat. Click here to get in touch.

Retiring the D2L Reference App

I first released the D2L Quick Reference iOS application in February 2011. Over a three-year time period, the app has been downloaded thousands of times and maintained a 4+ rating in the app store. It has allowed me to meet a lot of awesome people I might not have otherwise had a reason to talk. 

If you're a user of the app, you've probably noticed that it hasn't been updated in quite some time. Although I haven't pushed any updates iTunes, I've actually been working on a major revision off and on for several months now. The reason they haven't been released is that many of the features I want to add to the app, such as the ability to search a large database of tutorials and an option to customize the app based on your school's version of D2L, require some sort of interaction with a web server. Since I don't charge for the app, I just can't rationalize spending money on a server backend.  

For that reason, and because I want to focus on some new app ideas (more details soon), I've decided to stop development of the app and remove it from iTunes. Thanks to everyone who downloaded the app and made it a success! 

As a side note, I'd be happy to talk with anyone interested in creating a similar app for their organization. Feel free to use this form to request a quote!

D2L Fusion 2013

This week, I attended Fusion, Desire2Learn's annual User's conference. I've been fortunate to get to attend Fusion for the past 5 years and have always had a blast connecting with other instructional technologists, educators, and D2L staff. This year was no exception. Some of my favorite conference moments were Alec Couros's inspirational keynote presentation, sampling flights of beer from local breweries at the JFK Presidential Museum and Library, learning about some exciting upcoming products, getting recognized by the awesome Barry Dahl for my D2L book, and wrapping up the conference at The Pour House, where I enjoyed my first pickelback with some great friends.

Audrey and I were also fortunate to have the best group of participants we could have hoped for in our session on Replace Strings on Tuesday afternoon. We've posted both the presentation and handout to Github, so feel free to check it out if you're interested.

A Semester With Glassboard

I've never been a big fan of Desire2Learn's mobile interface. The Discussion tool, particularly, lacks many of the features that would make it useful to mobile users. For that reason, I decided to use an external service for all class discussions and announcements in WEB 2710: Web Design for Mobile Devices this semester. In this post, I'll give a brief overview of Glassboard, the service I chose, and share my experiences using it for a semester.

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