Eddystone and Physical Web: iBeacon evolution
It all started with Apple and iBeacon technology that was announced in 2013. This technology uses beacons — Bluetooth Low Energy devices. Their major purpose is simply to transmit advertisement packets on a periodic basis.
The following packet components are of particular interest for us:
- A beacon identifier which consists of three components:
- UUID — 16 bytes, it might specify ID of your company, chain store, etc.
- Major — 2 bytes, it might be the ID of the city in which your chain is located.
- Minor — 2 bytes, let’s say, location of a certain store.
- TX Power — 1 byte, a calibrated transmission power value. It is signal strength at 1 meter away from a beacon (measured in dBm). With this value you can calculate the distance between the beacon and your phone using trilateration.
You can change UUID, major and minor parameters. For example, UUID might specify a shopping mall, major — a certain shop in this mall and minor — a certain section in the shop. To learn more about iBeacon Bluetooth profile you can here.
iBeacon techology shortcomings:
- You need to download the app
- It is compatible only with iOS (to use it on Android devices you need to work with third party libraries, for example, Android beacon library)
This July Google announced its open beacon format. The technology is compatible with Android and iOS which is an advantage for developers.
Also Google came up with an idea to transmit three advertisement packets instead of one:
- Eddystone-UID. It is an identifier similar to iBeacon (UUID, major, minor). It consists of two parts: Namespace ID (10 bytes) and Instance ID (6 bytes).
- Eddystone-URL. Now beacons can transmit URL up to 18 bytes. URL shorteners help to solve the problem with long URLs. For example, there is an URL shortener by Google called goo.gl. It can transform touchin.ru/portfolio/squawk into a short version — goo.gl/PidTf3. This is the main development, later I’ll explain why.
- Eddystone-TLM (Telemetry). The following beacon statictics data is available:
- battery voltage
- number of packets sent since the beacon was last powered-up or rebooted
- beacon uptime, i.e., time since last power-up or reboot
- beacon temperature
Here you can check out Eddystone specification.
General beacon shortcomings:
- Transmitter coverage is up to 50 metres outdoors. Indoors it’s even less as walls affect signal transmission.
- Bluetooth low energy should be always on as it provides considerably reduced power consumption.
- One of the beacon producers Estimote claims that beacon battery works for 3 years in default mode.
So why is the innovative Eddystone-URL packet is so important? Because now it’s the driving force of Physical Web. To understand the problem which Physical Web is trying to solve, we need to look at QR code.
It was the first attempt to connect the Web and the real world, and in some ways it was even successful.
Let’s imagine that we are walking over unfamiliar routes and want to find some interesting places around. Even if there is a QR-code at a walking distance, it’s often difficult to find it. Sometimes you can’t see it (for example, if it is somewhere round the corner). But even if you see it, you have to come closer, run an application that you installed earlier, point your camera to the code, get an URL of a page (in most cases) and open it.
Too many actions. And we are lazy.
Physical Web provides us with another option — interaction on demand.
Physical Web app shows all URLs next to you. All you need is to take you phone out of the pocket and check out what’s interesting around you. Maybe there is a New Year sale in the shop across the road; a street musician from the underground walkway has his own website; a car next to you is on sale or an apartment round the corner is for rent. There is a lot of information on demand.
Here is a an excellent video for a better understanding how it works.
To make this real the app should be compatible not only with Android but will all kind of mobile OS.
Let’s take a look at different interaction scenarios and example uses of Physical Web in real life.
Imagine that you are at the bus stop and know neither bus schedule nor which bus you should take. Real-time transport apps can help you, but in some cities they might be unavailable. On the other hand, we can put a beacon at the bus stop and it will be transmitting URL with information required.
Say, you stop at the gas station. Usually you have to stand in a queue to pay for the gas. But now you can use Physical Web. The gas pump transmitts URL where you can specify the amount of gas and pay for it on the same page. After that server connects to the gas pimp through sockects and filling process begins. You can pay for parking in a similar way:
Physical Web promises well, so turn Bluetooth on and let this world become more interactive.