This is one of most popular enquiries so we have created a new blog post explaining the situation. Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not possible to send unsolicited messages from beacons to iOS and Android. The problem is that this used to be possible and there are now many web sites still promoting old information.
In the past, there was a way for beacons to broadcast a URL using a protocol known as Google’s Eddystone-URL. This protocol allowed a beacon to transmit a web address and a smartphone or web browser with the ‘Nearby’ feature could detect this broadcast without needing a specific application installed.
However, from December 2018, Google announced that it would discontinue the ‘Nearby’ feature due to a significant increase in irrelevant and spammy notifications that were leading to a poor user experience. This change meant that the Eddystone-URL, which was a potential avenue for unsolicited messages, could no longer be used in this way.
In the wake of Google’s decision, the beacon messaging landscape has changed. Beacons can no longer send unsolicited messages via the Eddystone-URL protocol and all notifications now require an app installed on the device that can listen for the beacons.
While this might seem like a limitation, it provides a level of protection for users, ensuring that they’re only receiving notifications that are relevant and wanted.
Google stopped serving Android Nearby Notifications late in 2018 but kept the Nearby API working for use within apps. Google has now deprecated the Nearby API that allows you to associate beacon ids with arbitrary content such as a link or multimedia data. It will be shut down on April 1, 2021.
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?
Read about Trigger Data and Beacon Servers
Read about The Advantages of Generic Beacons
Following on from Google to Stop Serving Android Nearby Notifications, today we have retired EddystoneCMS.
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:
- Reliable – Google’s mechanism wasn’t 100% reliable
- 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.
Read about Beacons for Marketing
Google announced yesterday that they are discontinuing support for Android Nearby Notifications. This is due to:
“a significant increase in locally irrelevant and spammy notifications that were leading to a poor user experience”
This means that anything mentioning the Physical Web, Eddystone-URL or Nearby notifications will no longer work. While beacons can still send out URLs, you will need an app to see the URL and you might as well use Eddystone-UID or iBeacon instead.
It’s disappointing that this mechanism will be turned off on December 6th, 2018. Unfortunately, it attracted use for more nefarious purposes and also resulted in some subscription schemes of dubious value. It’s especially bad news for those people using Nearby notifications legitimately and those companies that have built up platforms and businesses around Nearby notifications.
The Nearby API still works for apps and Google still supports the Proximity beacon API. With or without this API, it’s still possible to create beacon triggered notifications in iOS and Android apps using the Bluetooth APIs. What’s no longer possible is unsolicited, app-less notifications.
We will be updating BeaconZone documents, blog posts and articles over the next few days. EddystoneCMS will be retired.
Google have quietly cut much of the usefulness of using Nearby with Beacons. The Google Beacon Tools app previously allowed you to register beacons that advertise an id (not URL), even iBeacon, associating the beacon with either a URL or an app so that Android users receive a notification when they come across a beacon.
The Android Google Beacon Tools app that is used to register Nearby beacons has had some updates. Google have removed the capability to register iBeacons and the app now goes into a provisioning state to connect to the beacon being provisioned:
The Android Beacon Tools app can now only connect to and provision Eddystone GATT service Eddystone-UID and Eddystone-EID beacons otherwise it then shows “Eddystone configuration service not supported by this beacon”:
The majority of beacons, not just ours, don’t support Eddystone GATT service. This severely cuts down the types of beacon that can now be registered with the Beacon Tools app (in our case only 7 beacons).
The Nearby programming API, that you can use to register Nearby beacons in your app, still declares it supports iBeacon so it’s still currently possible to register non Eddystone GATT service beacons but not so easily.
This is going to be a problem for organisations who have used Nearby as an alternative to Eddystone-URL. If they have been relying on the Beacon Tools app rather than using their API via their own app, they won’t be able to register more beacons. This puts them into the difficult position of needing to either purchase Eddystone-GATT Service beacons or write an app that uses the API. However, there must have been some reason to restrict Beacon Tools to only Eddystone Standard GATT beacons and this might, one day, also apply to the API.
To be clear, this doesn’t affect Eddystone-URL. Eddystone-URL never, and still doesn’t need, registration at Google.
Together with the recent removal of Eddystone-URL detection from Chrome for iOS, this sees Google distancing Eddystone from iOS and iBeacon from Android OS. Organisations can still write apps that scan for iBeacon or Android and Eddystone on iOS. However, for some unknown reason Google no longer wants to support this in their own apps and tools.