The hybris Summit is just over and the hybris labs team presented many IoT-related prototypes to the customers and partners visiting. If you are following this blog, then that’s no news :-) Today, #google was kind enough to send me a few “physical web” beacons and also two extra Intel Edison boards, for all more fancy ideas I might have. After some wine and wild thinking, here are some thoughts.
The Physical Web
If you’ve never heard this: it’s basically an Apple iBeacon but instead a crazy, cryptic, UUID which is essentially a long number, it sends around a URL to a website. The key thing here is to understand that an iBeacon only makes sense with a special app, that scans and *interprets* the UUID. This could be Estimote’s SDK that tells your APP that Beacon 124123412341324 should right now, actually, mean show a coupon for the white sneakers in the showroom. We stopped believing that every customer would have the retailers app installed that enables commerce-centric use cases with iBeacons a while ago. But scanning QR-codes for URLs, tapping NFC tags, or even typing URLs directly… really? How backwards :-)
If only every thing would publish a URL
So now, the physical web tries to solve that problem. There will not be an app for everything. In the end, native apps won’t scale. They might be prettier and for some time looked like the only way to do mobile, but it just does not scale to the Internet of Things, where we talk about billions of smart devices. Broken down to commerce, we have not so many unique retailers around the globe compared to the complete IoT. Still, it is unrealistic that every customer walks into the retail space and has the suitable app installed to unlock the next smart wine shelf. The physical web replaces the cryptic data sent via Apple iBeacon with URLs. Only problem: the BLE advertisements are small, so some compression similar to the NFC NDEF URL Records is required. Combined with link shorteners, which are anyways great for built-in analytics, that seems like a solveable problem.
Damn, the physical web needs an app :-)
Dammit, did I just say it’s unrealistic our customers will each have a dedicated app installed for every single store and the “Things” therein. Right now, the physical web needs an app, that scans and interprets the physical web beacons. The promise is: there will be one app. Ideally, at some point, integrated into the operating systems. Like: your browser. That would be the natural place for such a web scanning feature.
So where will our physical web beacons go?
I’ll touch the Intel Edison “dynamic physical web beacons” over the next days, but first I will attach the 10 web beacons to some objects around the office. We have a few prototypes in the hybris labs space, which each will get one. Like in a museum, each beacon will forward to a unique blog post giving you some context and additional information about the prototype. I wish our fridge, filled with beer, had a beacon so we could track the takeout of a beer and track usage per employee. Oh, one beacon should link to the Swarm (that was Foursquare, remember?) URL for our office, so people can check in easily. Maybe I should carry a web beacon, so whoever is close to me can scan the link to my G+ profile or twitter account, so he can follow me. Next time I give a presentation, I will first update a beacon with the URL to my #prezi presentation and distribute the share links like that.
For the Intel-Edison based beacons, I need some constantly updating source so a dynamic beacon makes sense. The latest blog post on the hybris labs blog might make sense on first sight. But after a few extra sips of wine, a simple HTTP redirect – aka the WEB – solves that issue. The lab.hybris.com RSS feed already will redirect you to the latest blog post. So why waste an expensive Intel Edison on this? Reporting a sensor value makes way more sense. If you want to report a sensor reading, to load it directly off the web your sensor needs to share it with the web. Using a smart web beacon, I can send the browser to a local web address, then read the value. My local web address might be a retailer’s analytics system, having beautiful links to all the sensor data in my store. I’ll do that tomorrow or so…. please send us some comments or tweet me directly!