No, it’s not an April fool joke but instead another useful thing killed by Google. Apart from Search, Cloud, Gmail and perhaps Android it’s risky to base your business on anything provided by Google. Unless it’s an offering through which Google itself depends for income then you can’t depend on it sticking around. Instead, businesses should look to create their own APIs.
This shows the easy route isn’t always the best route. Think about your project dependencies. It is likely the platform you depend on will exist for the lifetime of your project? How is the platform funded? How is the company that provides the platform funded?
WiFi access points are increasingly supporting the broadcast of Bluetooth beacon signals. The main usecase is to allow for smartphone apps to detect the Bluetooth advertising and provide for location based information and navigation.
We previously mentioned Waze Beacons in Tunnels in New York City. Since then, Waze beacons have been installed in further cities such as Chicago, Paris, Rio, Brussels, Florence and Oslo. The latest installations are by Transurban who manage tunnels in Australia where they have installed over 930 beacons in 18Km of tunnels.
Waze beacons allow uninterrupted location services underground ensuring drivers never miss an in-tunnel exit. They provide navigation underground where GPS doesn’t work.
The beacons advertise Eddystone. The Waze app sees the beacons and uses the known beacon locations rather than GPS. Google is also a partner which allows Google Maps to also see Waze beacons when driving in tunnels.
The app joins the iOS version. The new apps and the Physical Web Association take up the space left by Google abandoning the Physical Web. The association’s apps are unbranded so can be used by anyone to provide for information triggered by beacons.
The Physical Web Association aims to provide the universal apps, metadata services and support. Mr Beacon has a new interview with Agustin Musi and James Grant, founders of the Physical Web Association. It explains how the Association hopes to work with manufacturers to simplify the beacon setup experience. It also mentions opportunities to use Eddystone URLs to lead to progressive web apps to provide device control using web Bluetooth APIs. This was one of the original premises of Google’s ambitions for the physical web.
Unlike Google’s implementation, the Physical Web Association hopes to create a publisher-driven categorisation/ranking system and end user app settings to limit and filter when notifications are shown when beacons are detected in background.
If you want to use beacons for marketing you now need to have an app that listens for iBeacon or Eddystone advertising. In some ways this is better than the discontinued Nearby notifications. For marketers it is more:
Transparent – you can more easily diagnose problems when it doesn’t work
Accountable – you can collect many more metrics
Flexible – a beacon can trigger anything the smartphone can do rather than just a web site
However, this is at the cost of requiring the user to install an app. Marketing using beacons is best retro-fitted into existing apps rather than within marketing specific apps for which you will need a large incentive for consumers to install.
Google has removed the Android Physical Web app from the Play Store. This provided a way of scanning for Eddystone beacons without relying on the built-in Android Nearby functionality. As previously mentioned, the Google Physical web team was disbanded. Google have now removed the app, presumably because there’s no-one to maintain it in tandem with new versions of Android. Here’s the final Android Physical Web APK if you wish to side-load the file.
The iOS Physical Web app is still available. The iOS version wasn’t written by Google and has recently been taken over by the non-profit Physical Web Association. We anticipate the Physical Web Association will one day release a new Physical Web app for Android.
A refreshed TestFlight version of the PhyWeb iOS app is available to members. This new app will be promoted via advertising and the press. In time, the PHWA aims to develop a native app kit to add the Physical Web to existing apps, develop brand-neutral apps for iOS and Android and host a metadata service as, presumably, a substitute for the google Physical Web Proxy.
In 2017, Scott Jenson, the person who brought the Physical Web to Google and became the Product Manager of the Physical Web team, moved to the Chrome UX team and since more recently moved to the Android UX team.
Very recently, Scott said“If there was still a Physical Web team, it would be fun to create these more semantic layers on top of the URL.” So, we now know there’s no Physical Web team and there probably hasn’t been since Scott moved teams.
Despite Google moving away from active development of the Physical Web, they are still fixing problems. There was issue with the Physical Web proxy that was recently fixed where “issue triggered in the presence of an invalid URL beacon (ex: a non-HTTPS page) in the proximity of other valid beacons.”. This is reason why some scenarios might not have previously worked (and will now work).
In summary, while new development on Physical Web is dead, the mechanism still works and Google is still applying fixes. Google has removed some functionality that was rarely used and has disbanded the Physical Web team. However, Google is still maintaining the Physical Web proxy and Eddystone notifications still work on Android.
Meanwhile, a group of people led by Agustin Musi from Switzerland is contemplating creating PhysicalWeb2. There’s a Slack channel you can join or you can email them at email@example.com. There’s also a new site at phwa.io.
Our free EddystoneCMS currently contains 282 beacons that have had over 55,000 clicks. As with many stats in life, there’s a 20:80 ratio – about 20% of the users create most of the traffic. The larger 80% only have a few clicks and the descriptions and links show these tend to be people testing out Eddystone and/or their beacons. The remaining 20% are almost certainly making productive and profitable use of their beacons. Here are the top 10 users for inspiration:
We now stock the BlueUp BlueBeacon Sensor. This is one of the most capable sensor beacons we know of with up to 8 advertising slots. It detects temperature, humidity and air pressure. It also supports Quuppa and Eddystone GATT Service.
The two AA batteries (included) last 3.5 years with default settings.