Physical Web — How URL Can Make Life Easier

Picture from developers-club.com

There will be more than 20 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices by 2020, according to Gartner, an American research company. During this year’s CES conference held in Las Vegas, the LG representatives announced that all their premium products will be provided with a wireless connection and easy control with a smartphone. Conclusion: the popularisation of everyday devices connected to the Internet is inevitable.

Along with the development of this concept, Physical Web — an IoT management tool — was created. It allows us to freely use the device without the necessity to have a dedicated app installed on it. How does it work? Let’s start from the beginning.

In 2015 Google launched the Eddystone project. It was a response to the iBeacon protocol created by Apple, which triggered the BLE technology development. Eddystone is compatible both with Android and iOS devices. In comparison to iBeacon, it features more functions, e.g. Eddystone-URL which allows beacons to send URLs to users within their range. They need only a smartphone with Bluetooth turned on. At first, URLs were to be sent by UriBeacons (transmitters dedicated for PW), but they were later replaced by Eddystone. To be able to receive information sent by means of the BLE technology, URL must be an encrypted HTTP version no greater than 17 bytes (Bluetooth limitation). Longer URLs can be shortened, using goo.gl, bit.ly or bit.do.

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Physical Web and mobile devices

If we want to use Physical Web on Apple devices, we need to have an iPhone or iPad running iOS 8.0 or higher with Bluetooth and add the Chrome browser to the Today view. In order to view the proposed websites when we are near an object that is part of Physical Web, we need to tap the Today button on our device, then tap the Edit button, select Chrome from the list of apps and turn Bluetooth on if necessary. The list will only be displayed in the Today view.

To use Physical Web on Android devices, we will need a telephone or a tablet running Android 4.3.2 or higher and Bluetooth. With Bluetooth, location and Chrome location runtime permission on (Chrome will not make this information available without the user’s consent on devices running Android 6.0 or higher), we will receive automatic notifications about the nearby URLs.

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Advantages of Physical Web

By clicking an address from the URL list, the user is directed to a website, which looks like an app. Using the phone as a scanner is not necessary as in the case of QR codes, since PW works by default. It is perfectly suitable e.g. for bus stops, museums or exhibitions. Sellers who want to avail themselves of proximity marketing can use it if their stores do not have an app. An example of the application of Physical Web in everyday life is a solution for parking ticket payments. The parking meter only has to have a radio antennae providing Internet access. A smartphone is sent the meter’s ID number encoded in the URL. The user is then able to pay the parking fees via a website. PW allows for multiple users to interact with a single device. This property can be used for conferences, meetings and gathering votes.

As for today, there is no information on specific implementations of PW. Answering why it is so, I think that the reason is what is supposed to be the strength of Physical Web — no need to perform additional actions by a user. PW should simply work on any device with the Chrome browser installed on it. It was supposed to be a remedy to the main disadvantage of the technologies of this kind, namely — the necessity to install an app working e.g. with beacons. Eliminating this obstacle, PW would provide a huge range of possibilities for promotional campaigns and information applications making our lives easier. It would enable communication with everything that surrounds us. The reality could be freely expanded.

Unfortunately — as mentioned before — this is not yet the case. Moreover, what has to be done to make Physical Web work sometimes is much more complicated than installation of an app. I believe that this is the reason why bus stops, parking meters, traffic lights, trains or ATMs do not communicate with us and do not make just another element of our life with the “smart” prefix.
Not yet. But who knows what will happen in a year’s time…

Sources:

https://github.com/google/uribeacon

http://gomobi.pl/blogi/co-to-jest-eddystone-5-faktow-o-nowym-beaconie-od-googlea/

https://google.github.io/physical-web/

https://blog.beaconstac.com/2016/03/8-ways-eddystone-and-the-physical-web-can-make-your-daily-life-easier/

● Gartner Says 6.4 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2016, Up 30 Percent From 2015

● Gartner Says By 2020, More Than Half of Major New Business Processes and Systems Will Incorporate Some Element of the Internet of Things

● Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Internet of Things Technologies for 2017 and 2018

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