The Physical Web and Beacons

The Physical Web and Beacons

Physical Web


It’s been 2 years since Apple announced their new Bluetooth protocol, iBeacon. iBeacon is a protocol that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), part of the new Bluetooth 4.0 standard, to communicate with iOS devices and let you know that you are in a point of interest that somehow gives you the ability to interact with your surrounding via your phone.


iBeacon is a protocol created to broadcast an application in a point of interest. An iBeacon transmitter (usually called Beacons) must stimulate a receptor that can be any iPhone or iPad with Bluetooth 4.0, through a BLE signal. The Beacon (transmitter) simply broadcasts an application UUID (universal unique identifier) along with other parameters that can be used by the application to customize the user experience.

In case a receptor that is within a transmitter signal range already has the application being broadcasted installed, the receptor will forward the data the transmitter is emitting straight to this application. At that point, the application will be able to interact with the user: sending notifications or triggering any service. Plus, the receptor device will place a shortcut to the application being broadcasted on the lock screen so the user can be a tap away from the application.



Google, on the other hand, created their own standard which actually is very similar to the Apple’s iBeacon, but they called it Eddystone. Eddystone shares the same principle as iBeacon, but they made it open to Android and iOS devices, while iBeacon only works for iOS devices.

Possible applications for Beacons

Imagine that Trader Joe’s creates an application to help their customers organize their grocery list. Their customers use this app to take note of the products they need (it would be really cool to have a barcode scanner to simply scan the Milk carton as you throw it into the bin).

Trader Joe’s install Beacons in every aisle of every store. As the costumers walk between aisles they could receive notifications according to their grocery list. The application could remind the costumer to take Milk as they passes in front of it, if that’s one of the items they have in their list. Or, if they have the APP opened, the APP could focus the customers on the products they have on their list that can be found in the aisle they are.


Or imagine the user has salmon in their list and is passing by in front of the oranges. The application could prompt them an Orange Roasted Salmon recipe… Alright I think I want to build an application like that, so Trader Joe’s if you’re reading me, I’m your guy!

Another example could be, lets say a restaurant… Imagine you enter a restaurant and take a sit on a table. The restaurant’s APP is a tap away from you since they have Beacons. You open the APP and, since it’s possible to make triangulation with three or more Beacons, the application could know exactly on which table of the restaurant you’re sitting at. And lets say you don’t want to wait for a server and you want to order right away. Or you want the check and pay with iPay. All those are real possibilities.

Beacons and The Physical Web


Beacons and particularly the Google’s protocol, Eddystone, brought another standard called Eddystone-URL where instead of broadcasting an application, we could broadcast an URL to be seen by anyone around.

“The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device – a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car – and not have to download an app first.” says Scott Jenson from Google.

Even though there are no standards yet, there are many browsers and APPs taking advantage of it. You can search on your app store for “physical web browser”.

If you’re using iOS, you can turn on the Google Chrome Widget on the Notification Center. Just make sure to unlock your iPhone, open the notification center by sliding a finger from the top of the screen to the bottom, go to the tab that says “today” go to the end and tap on the “Edit” button. Find “Chrome” in the list and click on the plus-sign button. Make sure to enable the “Physical Web” option if prompted.


Physical Web is becoming an essential part of the Internet of Things and its growing quite fast. Giving the ability of expanding the use of practically anything, has never been this easier.

Please watch the video below where Scott Jenson explains what “The Physical Web” is and where is it going.

Links of interest