Columbus-Based Piper App Developers Connecting Communities with iBeacon Technology

Josh Becker

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

If you were to stop right now, wherever you are – standing on the sidewalk; sitting in a car; dining out with friends – if you were to stop and look around, chances are you would see a good number of people staring with illuminated faces down into their mobile devices. It is the nature of our generation in this age of information. We live in a technological society. We literally have the world in the palm of our hand; instant access to the past, visions of the future. We share our present with the people we love. But by putting our heads down to tap into this awesome power, we are losing something else of even greater worth that is slipping away from us.

Our now. 

Enter Robert Hanczor and Wesley Ker-Fox with their new app Piper, an app they hope will give us our “now” back.

San Diego-based app developer Uwanna was contacted by an agency in Charleston, SC to develop a mobile app for McDonald’s that would combine updateable daily specials with augmented reality features that would offer customers added incentive to visit and interact with the brand. The local agency encouraged Robert Hanczor, CEO of Uwanna to contact Naartjie Multimedia in Columbus, GA, a new media marketing agency with a thirty year history as the agency-of-record for a large southeastern co-op of McDonald’s restaurants. Hanczor called Naartjie and spoke with Wesley Ker-Fox, the agency’s head of digital and online marketing department. After just one discussion, they saw the potential for so much more. 

Uwanna had long provided valuable local marketing services for the businesses with which it partnered; but it was when Apple added Bluetooth LE to their devices and developed the iBeacon standard that a new dimension of proximity was created. Whereas GPS technology – suitable for identifying places in a general area – was once the industry standard for all location-based services on smartphones, with the introduction of beacons, proximity was refined from local to hyper-local. Mobile apps suddenly had the ability to define places within a matter of meters. Phones had, in essence, become beacons themselves. An intricate web of connectivity had suddenly weaved itself across communities throughout the nation. Robert and Wes saw an opportunity. And they called it Piper.

“At Piper, we surveyed the landscape and found that many companies were building similar applications and several were little more than development kits - science experiments for developers,” explained Hanczor, also CEO of Piper. “Most were embedding the technology in their own apps so that if you had the Joe's Pizza app, you'd get notifications when you passed by Joe's Pizza. There are a few challenges with this approach and business model. It's unlikely that Joe has a developer at all. And even if he wanted the functionality, the cost would be prohibitive. Even if the Joe's Pizza franchise grew to the point that he could build his own proximity based mobile app, he'd still only be able to connect with people who had it installed on their devices. 

“We took a different approach. We see beacon technology as a new frontier similar to the early days of the Internet. Suddenly there were all these things called web pages, but nobody knew how to find them - until the first browser hit the market, making it easy to search for different sites. There's a similar opportunity emerging today and we want Piper to be the browser of beacons; one app that makes it easy to index and search for the beacons around you, create favorites, and interact with the world at an up close and personal level. That's why we say Piper is all about finding the people, places, and things around you.” 

So, what exactly is Piper? Piper CMO Wesley Ker-Fox defines it as a device for retailers and an app for users, but clarifies that the end result is the same for both: instant and open communication; right here, right now. “One of Piper’s primary uses is to help retailers engage with nearby or in-store consumers instantly and easily,” Ker-Fox explained. This allows for a new way of thinking about messaging and offers. Offers can now be time-sensitive and hyper-local, making it beneficial for a consumer to be near the store at that moment. Because you can change the messaging instantaneously, retailers can now be spontaneous, reactive, and more relevant; which also helps foster a relationship with their consumers.” 

The benefit to retailers will come from analytics and ROI. The benefit to users will come from being able to live in the moment, something increasingly difficult to do in this age of information. “Mobile apps are very good at connecting people who are separated by time and space, said Hanczor. “That's the real promise of social apps. They create a context of friendship in a two dimensional space. And it works great. We love chatting, following our friends lives, and sharing experiences. But what happens in real situations where the location is the context - a football game, a concert, a museum, or a classroom? We're all spending too much time with our heads down in our devices. With proximity technology, we may all get to finally look up, look around, confident that apps like Piper can survey the location and tell you if there's something or someone special to connect with.” 

The question then becomes if community embraces Piper, if a majority of its retailers start pushing notifications, if users sign on and their phones themselves become beacons, won’t we again find ourselves with faces illuminated, staring down at our phones? Actually, no. Wesley and Robert designed Piper to work passively for its users so they could enjoy the moment. 

“It may seem counterintuitive, but my favorite feature is the history,” says Ker-Fox. People are desperate to be reacquainted with real life. So we've developed an app you can literally pocket. It will keep track of all the things you miss because, well, you're paying attention to what's around you. Once you're ready, just glance at the history feature to review all the beacons and offers that you’ve recently come into contact with and can make an informative decision based on that. With Piper, you can basically relive what you’ve missed out on or didn’t know was there. You'll feel more comfortable simply being in the moment and enjoying what you’re doing knowing that you won’t miss anything because you can review all the messages at the end of the day.”

We live in the age of information, a technological society. We love our mobile devices. On them, we can accomplish almost any task. But perhaps, with an app like Piper, it’s time to put our phones in our back pockets, enjoy some real human interaction, and let our phones do the work for us. They’re smart enough, after all.