It’s clear that location-based marketing is booming, and beacons (small, wireless Bluetooth radios) are a dominant technology to locate consumers. Projections are that upwards of 400 million will be deployed over the next few years — but it’s not quite as clear what type beacons these will be.
The common perception is that there are two major beacon protocols, iBeacon, developed by Apple, and Eddystone, developed by Google. But this categorization confuses the issue because Eddystone is actually a collection of 4 distinctly different protocols: Eddystone- UID1, TLM2, EID3 (unreleased), and URL4.
What’s significant in this alphabet soup is that 3 of the Eddystone protocols are similar to iBeacon in that they work with apps, while the fourth, Eddystone-URL, is a web protocol. The Eddystone-URL protocol introduces a completely new and disruptive approach to proximity marketing that is designed to make consumer interaction frictionless – where no app is needed, and where consumers interact via a simple screen swipe.
Both approaches, app and web, have strengths and both will flourish in the next few years, but it is the newer Eddystone-URL that is truly disruptive. This web approach, also called the Physical Web, follows the unstoppable trend toward lessening friction, and will ultimately be the dominant beacon technology. Marketers should be aware of this trend.
What is the Physical Web?
The Physical Web is a novel extension of the Internet, where standard website URLs are broadcast by nearby beacons for direct consumer access. Rather than finding information via a typed search term, users now discover URLs via a scan of their environment. Physical Web beacons provide direct access to exactly the information providers want consumers to know.
“Walk up and use anything” is the apt catchphrase for the Physical Web because it simplifies consumer interactions. Consumers no longer have to find and open the right app to access content in a retail store, museum, or airport. The Physical Web’s universal approach offers a completely new and alternative way to browse the Web that is intuitive and follows the trend toward simpler interactions.
Apps exploded in popularity because they allow users to access single-purpose applications on their mobile devices without typing. Now, the Physical Web skips past the app, and allows direct interactions with a simple swipe down from the top of a screen.
The Physical Web Is Built to Scale
The Physical Web lowers the barriers to entry for proximity marketing. For one, there is no longer a need to develop and market apps. Secondly, URL-based content is inexpensive to create and administer. Possibly the most important difference is that Physical Web beacons have much lower deployment costs because they do not require trained installers.
From a consumer perspective, Physical Web beacons are more convenient since a different app is not needed for every possible interaction. They are also non-threatening because browsing the Physical Web is anonymous by default. While consumers can be tracked by Physical Web enabled apps when they opt in, consumers always have browser options that do not track. Finally, as a “pull” technology, the Physical Web does not risk consumer alienation from Push messages. The consumer chooses when they want to access content, using the universal Physical Web logo as the indicator of available content.
And, yes, the Physical Web IS universal. Any compatible Physical Web browser/scanner can read Physical Web beacons. These include major mobile browsers such as Chrome and Opera, operating systems like Firefox OS, and even supporting apps. This universality will enable growth to snowball as customers on-boarded in one location will be familiar with the interaction in any other location.
Importantly, while the Physical Web has been available on Chrome-iOS since last July, it is expected that in March Google will more aggressively promote the technology by notifying Android users (one time only) when they are first near a Physical Web beacon to educate them about the availability of the technology. With 800 million Android devices worldwide, this will lead to dramatically increased consumer awareness.
Unleash the Power of the Web for Proximity Marketing
At the most basic level, the Physical Web moves signage from the physical world to user’s mobile devices. From there, they can dig deeper, bookmark, share, or interact. But because it builds upon the familiar, mature and powerful building blocks of the Web, it is also quick and easy to build fun new interactions that extend beyond product information and promotions.
Richard Graves is an entrepreneur, marketer and angel investor with a background in telecom and technology start-ups. He currently is founder and CEO of BKON Connect, an IoT company that provides beacon hardware and Physical Web management software that helps retailers and content owners in over 40 states and 18 foreign countries manage beacons and their messages. He is a past founder or co-founder of six other start-ups.