Qualcomm Gimbal takes on Apple iBeacon for micro-location

Qualcomm has launched Gimbal, its take on Apple's iBeacon, a system of context-aware proximity beacons intended for shopping, social networking, mobile services, and more. Using small, battery powered Bluetooth dongles which create localized hotspots to interact with iOS and – eventually – Android devices, Qualcomm says Gimbal can push product information, sports team details, topical adverts, and other content whenever a smartphone comes into range, just as iBeacon promises only with eventual cross-platform support.

iBeacon, which Apple launched across its Apple Stores late last week, is currently being used to deliver information and upgrade details about products on display near to where the user is standing. The Apple Store app on the iPhone is recognized by the iBeacon hotspot, effectively being used for indoor GPS-style services.

Qualcomm Gimbal works in a similar way. The company offers two versions initially: the smaller Gimbal Proximity Beacon Series 10, which is 28 x 40 x 5.6 mm, runs from a CR2032 button battery good for around three months when pinging out updates twice a second, and can also record temperature. The Series 20 version, meanwhile, is 95 x 102 x 24 mm and runs off four AA batteries, good for around a year of use with 10x-per-second pings, and is waterproof for outdoor use too.

Both use Bluetooth LE (aka Bluetooth Smart) to communicate with Qualcomm's Gimbal APIs, which can be baked into apps so that they recognize the location hotspots. Just as with iBeacon, there are various privacy settings to avoid getting overloaded; for vendors, meanwhile, there's a log of location, when people wandered in and out of range, and – for iOS devices – proximity to the beacon itself.

Qualcomm says the two Gimbal beacons are accurate down to around a foot, and will be priced at around $5 and $10 for the Series 10 and Series 20 models, respectively, when bought in bulk.

It remains to be seen how willing consumers are to open up their devices to location-based notifications, and how well brands will be able to balance the desire to push content to phones versus not wishing to overwhelm. As per Apple, Qualcomm isn't only billing Gimbal as a shopping solution, however; the dongles could be used to deliver prescription readiness notifications when you're near your pharmacy, push the latest team information to your phone when you're near their home stadium, or promotional information from advertising billboards.