There are lots of brands of iBeacon and Eddystone beacon. Each brand has its own management app. We have often been asked,
“Is it possible to have just one app to manage different brands of beacon?”
While it’s technically possible, there’s no incentive for anyone to create such an app. Creating just one app to manage one beacon brand, across iOS and Android is significant effort in itself.
Google identified this problem and created the Eddystone Configuration GATT Service. The idea is that if manufacturers used just this, apps and beacons would be inter-operable. However, people want to configure iBeacon as well as Eddystone. Manufacturers also want to allow users to configure and read sensor data. Also, using Eddystone Configuration GATT Service software in all future beacons does nothing to help manage the large number of beacons that are already out there.
As of writing this, in 7 years since Eddystone Configuration GATT Service was published, no apps have been published that work with the Eddystone Configuration GATT Service. However, the Nordic nRF Connect app does understand some of the Bluetooth Characteristics to better read these kinds of beacons. There hasn’t been a rush for manufacturers to use Eddystone Standard GATT.
Back to the question. It looks like there will be a separate app per manufacturer for the foreseeable future.
Beacons are small computers that run software, more specifically firmware. Beacon manufacturers write the firmware that uses Bluetooth software libraries to send out iBeacon, Eddystone and/or sensor data advertising.
When a beacon supports over-the-air (OTA) update, it allows that firmware to be updated without physically connecting to the beacon with wires. A smartphone app, such as the manufacturers’ app or the generic Nordic nRF Toolbox is used to connect to the beacon via Bluetooth and update the firmware.
In practice, manufacturers never update their firmware so whether a beacon supports OTA update or not isn’t usually an issue.
A further use of OTA is the facilitation of custom firmware when the standard firmware needs to be updated to provide for specially required functionality. This is non-trivial and ideally needs to be performed by the original manufacturer because they have the original source code. We have arranged this for a few customers but it tends to only be financially viable for large orders.
It’s also possible to completely replace the software in some beacons, something we provide via custom solutions and used in our social distancing and mesh solutions. In these cases, OTA tends to be too slow so wired programming jigs are sometimes used instead.
There has been speculation that the Physical Web, as championed by Google, is dead.
Here’s what we know:
In October 2017, Google removed Eddystone URL from Chrome on iOS and Android. Eddystone URL in Chrome on iOS wasn’t being used much and Eddystone detection had been moved to (and is still in the) the Android OS.
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.
The Physical Web Twitter account says “This account is no longer active”.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s also a new site at phwa.io.
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.