Something happened last week that should have got more press. Google started to rollout support for the Physical Web in the release version of Chrome. Up to now, the Physical Web has been a bit of sideline activity for Google. It was previously only available to those few people who took an interest and downloaded the beta version of Chrome, a standalone app or the the relatively few people using Chrome on iOS.
The Physical Web is similar to a QR codes in that it provides web addresses. Instead, the web address comes from a Bluetooth beacon that’s typically up to 50m away but this can reach up to 200m with some beacons. Chrome can now scan for these beacons and prompt the user, via notifications, whether they want to open the URL. What’s more, Google has said they will be prompting users to enable the Physical Web when they walk by a beacon for the first time. This should build awareness.
Some people are asking if we might be entering a post app World. I don’t think so. There are barriers to entry, the largest being you need Bluetooth and Location on in the first place. Even if it were to ignite the mass-market’s imagination, I am sure there will be group of people ready to spoil the party with spammy URLs and URLs leading to sites with malware. Also, Google is still rolling it out and it will be two weeks before we all have Physical Web enabled Chrome browsers. Meanwhile, there’s a workaround if you want to be an early adopter.
However, I do see a large potential for use of the Physical Web in more controlled situations where the user purposely enables and uses it in a proactive situation – much like using QR codes now but with much better ease of use. So, lots of places and things could become Physical Web enabled and users could actively choose to seek the URL for more information.
If you want to experiment with the Physical Web, BeaconZone, which I have an involvement in, currently has a choice of 16 Eddystone beacons.