How Eddystone Will Take Beacons Further Than Ever Before

Szymon Niemczura is the CEO and cofounder of Kontakt.io, a provider of microlocation tools. Kontakt.io is a Wearable World Labs company. ReadWrite’s parent company, Wearable World, takes a stake in Wearable World Labs companies.

In its new Eddystone standard, Google has offered a complete package that solves proximity for developers in a number of ways. What should you do about it?

Eddystone is an open format from Google that takes the primary capability of beacons—their ability to broadcast a unique number via short-range Bluetooth signals—and extends it to an impressive degree. What does that mean? Let’s start by looking at what makes Eddystone different from iBeacon, the well-known beacon format from Apple.

  • iBeacon is Android and iOS compatible, but native only for iOS
  • Eddystone is Android and iOS compatible, and may be a native part of the upcoming Android M release
  • iBeacon is simple and easy to implement
  • Eddystone is flexible and opens new possibilities, but is more complicated to code
  • iBeacon is not open source—the specification is in Apple’s hands
  • Eddystone is published openly on GitHub
  • iBeacon broadcasts a unique ID number
  • Eddystone broadcasts three different packets: a unique ID number, a URL address, and sensor telemetry

Take in the broader set of data you can broadcast with Eddystone-compatible beacons. You have the capacity to broadcast URLs directly to users’ smart devices, or take temperature or other sensor data from beacons and broadcast it to smart devices for a variety of uses. 

Google has done more than that. This week, it also launched two new services: the Nearby API and the Proximity Beacon API. 

The Proximity Beacon API is a Google-sized solution for a problem many other businesses have tried to solve: How does a developer manage all of the data involved in working with beacons and smart devices? They’re hardly the first ones to present a solution for this (every beacon manufacturer worth their salt has developed its own approach), but Google is making their own attempt at being the one API to rule them all. 

The Nearby API is also a good answer to a hard problem: putting proximity features into smart devices at the operating-system level instead of at the app level. Through Nearby Messages and Nearby Connections, Google is looking to own the data flow from beginning to end.

The Internet Of Things Is Where The Money Is

Google knows that the Internet of Things is going to be where the money for the Internet is, in a few years’ time. In order to be there in the future, it is running hard at its target now. 

For a young company like ours, in a space that’s attracting attention from companies as big as Google and Apple, you know you’re doing something right. It’s also kind of scary. Do we all really want to give Google even more data points about our lives?

Eddystone represents a big jump forward in what you can expect from the Internet of Things. For the Internet of Things to reach the kind of saturation point that it needs to transform our lives in the manner which the Internet itself did, it needs to be ubiquitous. By building a complete framework that expresses how you broadcast data from Bluetooth Low Energy beacons (Eddystone format), where this data resides (the Proximity Beacon API), and even how to present that data to smart devices (the Nearby API), there’s one coherent framework for the Internet of Things to operate on. 

This improves how developers will create experiences across platforms and makes it easier to create an endless stream of proximity data for our devices to interact with.

So how does this bring ubiquity? If, as many expect, Google natively supports Eddystone in Android M, developers will get the ability to push notifications to someone’s smartphone through the Nearby API. Their apps can also take into account what the user’s smart device has been doing (like searching for a given term or getting directions to a specific place) and present relevant data to users with virtually no effort on their part. 

By putting a native integration into the most popular mobile operating system in the world, Google will create a huge demand for beacons and smart-device interactions, and will hugely increase the beacon installations around the world.

Here’s an example. Imagine you’re taking a trip. When you look up directions from an airport to a hotel after you rented a car, the Nearby API can be used to see if you’ve left the parking garage and automatically take care of most of the steps required for checking in. Upon arriving at the hotel, you’re prompted to install the hotel’s registration application to speed things up. It also sets the room you’re going to be in to your preferred temperature, informs the hotel staff when you’ve parked in their parking lot, and can even have your phone serve as your room key. When you check out at the end of your stay, your phone passes by a beacon as you leave the hotel parking lot, checking the exact registered location with the Proximity API, and checkout is handled automatically. All of these features are proximity interactions that can be driven by a native integration with Android and beacons through Eddystone, the Proximity Beacon API, and the Nearby API.

What To Do About The Eddystone Opportunity

In any market, the main differentiator between the winners and the losers is that the winners correctly identify the major market trends and get ahead of them. The losers don’t even notice things have changed until they’re irrelevant. Blockbuster didn’t worry about Netflix—until too late. Taxi medallion owners didn’t worry about Uber—until too late. If your business is in a space where proximity is valuable—and that’s almost every business segment out there—now is the time to start thinking about what your plan to embrace proximity in your organization is. 

 If you don’t determine how your business can make use of proximity to better serve your clients, odds are someone else will, and by offering better service in a world where Internet of Things functionality is ubiquitous, they’ll get and keep clients faster than you will. Just like no one takes a business without a website seriously these days, it will soon be the case that no one takes a business that doesn’t have good proximity integrations seriously either.

As the leader of a company that manufactures beacons and beacon software—and who was one of the select few companies working with Google on this project as they got it ready for launch—I’m excited about what Google’s Eddystone is bringing to the space. We hope it will help drive more sales of beacons, but that’s almost incidental to the kind of experiences that it makes possible. It helps us by giving developers everywhere a language that they can use to construct something other than just another couponing app, and by raising expectations for what developers deliver, will increase the value of the Internet of Things to everyone who’s looking at joining the space.

Lead photo by Jonathan Leung; other images courtesy of Kontakt.io

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