Google’s UriBeacon: More Disruptive than iBeacon?

In October 2014 Google created UriBeacon, an open specification to connect Bluetooth Low power beacons to the web, an experiment they called the Physical Web.

UriBeacon could well be bigger than iBeacon in its disruptive role, providing a bridge between the physical and digital worlds. Let’s explore why that is, how UriBeacons work and what to expect when you start browsing the Physical Web.

The Myth of the Long Tail

The target market for UriBeacon is all organizations that don’t have the resources, skills, market position and luck to develop a very successful app. That would be most organizations.

The success of iBeacon is predicated on the success of mobile apps. iBeacons require beacon aware apps to receive their UUID, Major and Minor Device Numbers. With all those apps in the app stores that seems like a fairly safe bet.

However, the painful truth is that the vast majority of apps are financial failures. Gartner calculated that less than 0.01 percent of consumer mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers. Developing a successful major app is like making a major movie; very difficult and very expensive. Most of us only use a handful of apps regularly and with well over a million apps each on the Android and Apple stores, competition is fierce. That’s not to say that you can’t make money with apps. You can, big money, but truth be told, the chances are that it won’t be you or I that hits the jackpot.

The exciting thing about UriBeacon is that you don’t need to be able to write an app to use one. It took me about 10 minutes. First I opened up my brand new Blesh UriBeacon, (sent all the way from Istanbul), pushed a button to get it into setup mode, copied and pasted the URL that I wanted it to broadcast and away I went, with a beacon enabled mobile experience. Ten minutes, first time user, cost $50 plus tax and $8 shipping from Turkey.

The UriBeacon experience is different

Rather than triggering behavior in custom apps that may be running in the background, UriBeacon broadcasts short web URIs that can be browsed by a general purpose browser, working in the foreground. URI relies on more of a pull from the user, scanning their environment rather than a push from the beacon.

The idea is that this interaction will ultimately be enabled by ubiquitous apps like the browser. Until that happens, you can download the Physical Web browser app from the app store.

To be absolutely clear about this, UriBeacon is not about replacing iBeacon, it’s a complementary tool set. Preinstalled apps like ApplePay/PassBook will leverage beacons more and more as we close the loop between promotions and purchases. For many very successful apps like Facebook, OpenTable and Shazam and for games that don’t translate to the browse environment, using iBeacon makes sense. It totally makes sense for Walmart and Target to invest in their own apps, but we know that it doesn’t for the other 99% of retailers.

For enterprises that can afford a web site but can’t afford a mobile app, UriBeacon brings the benefit of digital to physical convergence. We should expect tools like WordPress and Adobe Creative Suite to extend the web publishing system to cater for UriBeacon. These offerings are in a position to tie Physical Web into the digital web publishing tools with which millions of content producers are already familiar.


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