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Walk Up and Do Anything using the Physical Web

August 5, 2016

After working with iBeacons in iOS, we wanted to see if there was a similar technology available for Android users. This was where we discovered Eddystone, an open Bluetooth protocol that supports several varieties of data packets so your beacon can emit different types of information.

The Eddystone-UID packet contains an identifier which can trigger a specific action, similar to iBeacon. However, another type of data packet, Eddystone-URL, emits a simple URL. This works hand in hand with the Physical Web, which scans for Bluetooth signals from Eddystone-enabled beacons and displays the Eddystone URLs in your pulldown menu after passing them through a proxy. With a simple tap, the user is directed to the url emitted from the beacon. The goal of both the Physical Web and the Eddystone-URL packet is to create proximity-aware experiences for users without the need to download an app. Instead, the Physical Web works through browsers such as Chrome and Opera, and unlike Apple iBeacons, Eddystone is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

Imagine walking by a restaurant and immediately being able to see its Yelp profile. You could pay a parking meter online using Apple Pay simply by clicking a link on your phone. With the Physical Web, you can connect users to any website with just a tap. The type of interaction is then determined by the website you design.

Set Up

In order to set up Physical Web, the first step is to enable Eddystone on your beacon, which depends on the manufacturer. You will then be able to set the Eddystone URL to your desired web address. Finally, you will have to adjust the settings on your phone to enable the Physical Web.

In iOS:

If you're an iPhone user, you first need to ensure that you’ve downloaded Google Chrome. You also need to enable Bluetooth in your iPhone’s settings, and check that you are running iOS 8.0 or higher. Then, from the pulldown menu, select “Edit” at the bottom of the page, and add the Chrome widget. You may be prompted to enable the Physical Web in the pulldown menu. After this, you should be able to see the URLs broadcasted from nearby beacons. Tapping on one of these URLs will direct you to its webpage.

In Android:

In Android, you need to enable both Bluetooth and Location services under Settings. You also need to change the visibility of your device so it can pair with your Beacon. Android phones have settings so that visibility times out after several minutes. You can change these settings so your device is always visible to all beacons by going to your Bluetooth settings, and opening the More Options menu. After choosing “Visibility Timeout”, you can select the option to never have your phone’s visibility timeout. You may also need to enable Location services in the Google Chrome app. In order to work with Physical Web, you need to have Android 4.3.2 or higher. Now, when you walk within range of your Eddystone-URL beacons, you should be able to see the URLs in your pulldown menu.

The Future of Physical Web

Since the only limit to the Physical Web is what you can design on a website, there are lots of possible uses for this technology in marketing, retail, and customer service. However, despite the fact that the goal of Physical Web is to remove barriers to entry for users, the number of steps currently required to set up Physical Web on your mobile phone may act as a deterrent to users. Furthermore, because the notifications are designed to be low-priority, the user has to specifically check their pulldown menu for notifications from the Physical Web. However Physical Web and beacons are in relatively early stages of development and could be improved by new updates.

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