Eddystone-URL Beacons – How I Did it

  I am cursed with the tractor pull of early, early adoption. QR codes lured me in several years ago and this summer it was the turn of the iBeacon. When Apple released these BluetoothLE (low energy) radio transmitters in 2013 they were programmed to communicate with a custom app that visitors to Apple retail stores were encouraged to install on their iPhones. Developers quickly jumped on the opportunity, writing custom apps for other retailers and verticals and the numbers began to grow explosively. But until July of 2015 beacons needed apps like plants need water. Then Google introduced an open source, cross platform alternative to iBeacon, which they named “Eddystone” after a famous lighthouse in the British Isles. The killer aspect of Eddystone is its ability to broadcast a simple web address, a single url that opens up the power of the Internet to every inexpensive little beacon transmitter. Virtually all beacon hardware can be made to work with either standard, or both. I was reading everything I could find on the beacosphere, trying to cement my understanding, collect use cases and ultimately to move from an intellectual sense of the opportunities to an operator’s experience of the end-to-end reality of beacons in use. I selected beaconstac in India as my starting point for the hands-on phase of my journey, and ordered their starter kit for USD $79. (A terrific chat support guy named Dan in NYC made the decision for me.) It included three beacons, an app and a cloud platform. It promised a demo that would open on my smartphone and simulate the experience of entering the proximity zone of a beacon in a retail environment, to show me a deal on shoes. shoes It didn’t work and the beacons were not Eddystone compliant. But to their credit, after trying for several weeks to patch their app to talk to my Sony Xperia Z3 they sent me a free, Eddystone replacement kit. In the meantime I had discovered the manufacturer of the beaconstac hardware, Sensoro of Beijing. Sensoro was running a sale on the identical 4AA beacons, for USD $10 each. I ordered two and installed their app for Android. In a very short time I had discovered how to program them to broadcast simple urls, selecting cnn.com and cbc.com because they were well within the 17-character limit for length of url. I installed an app called the “Physical Web”. When I pull down my notification screen I see a message about two beacons being nearby. When I click that message I see the links I created. my_beacons_in_notification The Physical Web app will I believe become ubiquitous in our physical environment. You will see the distinctive logo on shop doors and street signs, to alert you to the presence of contextual content. From an apartment for rent to a concert announcement and anything in between, links to available web pages will present themselves if you request them. My accomplishment as described above wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound. I stumbled down the road of discovery. The key was my finding that the Sensoro app included its own QR code scanner, for use on the QR code printed on the side of every one of their beacons. Scanning it brought up the beacon settings and the offer to edit them. Here I could enter my url of choice, save and exit. I tried to use the same approach to programming the three identical beacons from the replacement starter kit and hit a roadblock. I’d scan the QR code, select “Edit” and be presented with a login screen asking for a password. beaconstac_eddystone It was many days later that I realized I was looking at the essential security feature that prevents all of us from freely changing other people’s content, by editing their beacons. This requirement for basic security is what forces us to select a supplier and use their software to program our beacons. No matter how far from Mumbai or Beijing my beacons may travel, their supplier knows where they are and how they’re set. That’s what allows them to permit me to make my edits, but not someone who cannot identify himself to their platform. Every beacon has a UUID, a universally unique ID as original as a fingerprint. So now let me share with you last night’s inspiration. Not everyone controls web space and is capable of creating content to link to a url that their personal beacon can then broadcast. But virtually everyone has a device that will shoot video and virtually everyone can upload that video to YouTube and use the YouTube url to link it to a beacon. So whether you want to sell your car (parked with a beacon inside and the Physical Web logo on the window) or advertise a local event in a friendly storefront, creating the message and making it available just got pretty darn easy. And it’s just as easy to change the message by creating a new one and using the url YouTube provides. There's no arguing that most of us haven't had a live beacon experience yet but that will change quickly as the Chrome browser for Android, the Opera browser and more options for receiving notifications natively expand. Beacons just offer too much in too many directions not to get huge. From tracking lost pets to delivering audible messages to the visually impaired, beacons can do what hasn’t been possible until now. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.
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