Unsolicited Messages Can’t be Sent to iOS and Android

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.

Eddystone URL

Eddystone-URL is a format for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon advertisements. It is an open format developed by Google and designed to be transmitted by beacons to nearby devices, such as smartphones and tablets. The format allows beacons to broadcast a URL which can be used to direct users to a specific web page.

In other words, Eddystone-URL is a way for ‘things’ with attached beacons to communicate with nearby devices and provide them with a link to a webpage. This can be used for a variety of purposes, such as providing location-based information, coupons, or other types of content to users. It can be used in a wide range of applications, including retail, transportation and tourism.

Eddystone-URL works by broadcasting a URL in a Bluetooth advertisement packet. When a device with a compatible BLE receiver, such as a smartphone, comes within range of the beacon, it can receive the advertisement packet and decode the URL. The user can then open the URL in a browser on the device.

An app is needed on iOS and Android such as Beaconstac NearBee, the Physical Web Association app or your own custom app. If you create your own app, consider using iBeacon instead of Eddystone URL advertisements for easier processing on iOS (also works on Android). The iBeacon ids can be mapped to URLs in the app. This is often better because the mapping can be changed, for example on a server, rather than having to physically access the beacon to change the URL.

Read about Using Beacons for Marketing

Physical Web App for Android

There’s a new Physical Web app for Android by the Physical Web Association. The app detects beacons advertising Eddystone URL.

The new app 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.

View Eddystone beacons

Google to Stop Serving Android Nearby Notifications

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.

Android Physical Web App Removed from the Play Store

Important: This web page is provided for historical purposes.

On 25 October 2018, Google announced they are discontinuing Nearby Notifications on Android. This mechanism should no longer be used.

Read about using Beacons for Marketing

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 also no longer available. The iOS version wasn’t written by Google and has recently been taken over by the non-profit Physical Web Association

New Physical Web Association

Last April we asked if the Physical Web was dead and mentioned that a group of people, led by Agustin Musi from Switzerland, was contemplating creating PhysicalWeb2. The Physical Web Association (PHWA) has now been created as a non-profit association with the goal of driving the development, community, and adoption of the Physical Web. The PHWA is now accepting memberships.

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.

Is The Physical Web Dead?

Important: This web page is provided for historical purposes.

On 25 October 2018, Google announced they are discontinuing Nearby Notifications on Android. This mechanism should no longer be used.

Read about using Beacons for Marketing

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 November 2017, Google Nearby Beacon Functionality Was Severely Cut by Google. This is different to Eddystone-URL and relies on Eddystone-UID beacons being registered at Google. The result was that the Beacon Tools app only works with Eddsytone GATT beacons (not iBeacons).
  • There has been no activity in the Physical Web GitHub account for about a year. Google is no longer working on improving Eddystone. This is unfortunate because Bluetooth 5 presents lots of new opportunities that require evolution of the Eddystone standard.
  • 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 contactus@phwa.io. There’s also a new site at phwa.io.

Read about using beacons for marketing.

Advanced BlueUp BlueBeacon Sensor in Stock

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.

New EddystoneCMS

Some people want to use an Eddystone beacon to send out a message but they don’t have the technical ability or inclination to configure a URL shortener and set up a secure web page to serve the web address. We have also seen some customers having problems with public URL shorteners such as tiny.cc because when they are overloaded they take too long to respond, the Google Physical Web Proxy gives up and consequently the beacon doesn’t get detected.

Today, we announce EddystoneCMS, a new FREE site that creates a fast, short eddys.cc URL and a editable, secure (SSL) web page the title of which is used for the smartphone message making it easier, less expensive and more reliable than doing all this manually. The CMS creates a short URL that you put into the Eddystone beacon using the manufacturer app.

What’s more, EddystoneCMS also provides analytics and geographic information showing how many people have clicked on your beacon web address.