We Can Answer Your Physical Web Questions – And Even Inspire a Few New Ones

What is the Physical Web?

The Physical Web is best described by its catchphrase “walk up and use anything.” Consumers directly interact with things in their environment based upon proximity, rather than through a typed search instruction.

The point of the Physical Web is universality. It makes contextual information available to anyone and everyone, at anytime. It does this by presenting location-based content as a URL, and offering the ubiquitous browser to display this content. The audience is even further expanded because mobile apps can easily add scanning functionality to make Physical Web content available in-app.

The Impact of the Physical Web Changes with Perspective:

To the Consumer, the Physical Web means being able to go directly to contextually relevant information, either via a “screen swipe” or from any compatible app.

To the Marketer, it means not having to invest in developing and supporting a custom app, or in marketing the app, thus allowing a focus on content and customer.  It also means being able to extend the value of an existing app.

To the Project Manager, it means vastly simplified deployments and administration, without the need for skilled installers.

To the Content Administrator, it means simplified content creation and management and access to well-developed and familiar tool sets.

To the Content Owner, it means having the largest possible audience and the maximum flexibility in updating that content.

What Makes It Such an Important Technology?

The unstoppable trend is toward simpler, frictionless transactions. Apps were a result of this trend, because consumers needed a simpler way to get to single purpose actions on their mobile devices without having to type. Now there are too many possible interactions for unique apps to deliver all of them. The next step in this evolution moves past the app to direct interaction, i.e. the Physical Web.

Why Is the Physical Web Said to Be Disruptive?

  • The Physical Web is a new dimension of the Internet.
  • It’s where the Internet of Things intersects the World Wide Web.
  • It’s the next big thing after apps.
  • It’s a fundamentally new way for consumers to interact with anything.
  • It’s a platform primed for yet unimagined new innovations.
  • It’s the cool new place to develop.

How Big Will the Physical Web Be?

Very big! Some estimates are that it will be 10 to 50 times larger than the current Internet. The numbers become very possible when one considers that every important place, thing and device in our surroundings can have its own website.

What’s the Difference Between the Web and the “Physical Web”?

The Web is made up of the approximately 1 billion websites that we all interact with daily, finding these websites by searching with Web browsers. The Physical Web is a new dimension of the web, where we “discover” content through a scan with a Physical Web browser, rather than searching for it.

Put another way, with the Web we search for the bus schedule by typing something like “metro bus schedule” then wade through the choices presented until we find the specific bus stop/schedule we need. With the Physical Web, if we are standing at the bus stop, then that specific schedule is directly accessible with a simple scan.

Can I Build a New Business Around the Physical Web?

Yes, definitely. There will be thousands who do before you know it. It will lead to new types of interactions like “shopping glasses,” where one puts them on to see product promotions during a stroll through a store, or “smart” candy machines, where the currency is an exercise goal (such a Physical Web candy machine that has already been demonstrated by Leo Burnett).

The Physical Web is a greenfield market that is gathering steam. Start picking the low hanging fruit, and begin cultivating the next unicorn.

Is the Physical Web a Google Product?

No, the Physical Web is an open-source project. Google initiated the project, and the integration into Chrome gives the project a huge tailwind, but it has a life of its own. Want to contribute or put your own spin on it? The source code is available for anyone to download from Github.

How Does the Physical Web Relate to Eddystone?

Now for the dull part…

Eddystone is a protocol specification that defines a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) message format for proximity beacon messages. Eddystone currently consists of 4 formats: Eddystone UID, EID, TLM, and URL.

The Physical Web is based solely on the Eddystone-URL format, which is unique in that it is a Web protocol. The iBeacon and the other Eddystone protocols are all app protocols. Eddystone-URL gives the Web the new dimension of proximity, while the other 4 protocols do the same for apps. The Eddystone source code is available for anyone to download from Github.

What’s the Difference Between iBeacon and the Physical Web?

Beacons configured as iBeacons typically work with only a single app, whereas each contextual app has it own associated beacons. Alternately, Physical Web beacons are universal and work with any compatible Physical Web scanner/browser, including browsers like Chrome and Opera, and also including compatible apps.

Also, the Physical Web is based on the open-source Eddystone beacon protocol, while iBeacon is Apple’s proprietary protocol.

Can Apps Work with the Physical Web?

Yes. The code for a Physical Web client is open source. Just as browsers and stand-alone scanners make use of a version of this code, an app can incorporate the functionality to “see” the URLs of nearby Physical Web beacons. PHY.net offers a free SDK that makes it simple for apps to embrace the direct-access content available on the Physical Web.

Are There Many Suppliers of Physical Web Beacons?

There are, and Google maintains a list of those who are certified. All of these beacons are compatible with PHY.net as long as they are configured to broadcast Eddystone-URL protocol.

How Do People Access the Physical Web?

Consumers use a Physical Web browser (or an alternative Web client such as a stand alone scanner or a compatible app) to access the Physical Web. The most prominent Physical Web browser is Chrome, and other options include BeaconSage, Blesh Physical Web, Decode, Summon and our own PHY.net Browser.

Think of a Physical Web beacon as “living signage” that can seamlessly transfer local content onto a consumer’s mobile device for interaction, saving or sharing.

What Is the User Interface for the Physical Web?

The most common user interface for the Physical Web is a finger swipe from the top of a mobile display. Once enabled on iOS, the user’s Today screen will show nearby beacons via a widget. On Android, if enabled, the Notifications screen is where users will see beacons.

The second most common interface is with a mobile app, where users select a button or tab while in-app to scan for nearby content. Google provides open-source app code that makes it possible for developers to build their own standalone scanners. The PHY.net SDK can be used for the same purpose in addition to its use in making it compatible with the Physical Web. We expect this will result in a growing number of choices for consumers, allowing them to find one that they prefer.

How Do Consumers Know When Physical Web Content Is Available?

Physical Web LogoThe Physical Web relies on consumers choosing to access nearby content. They “scan” the Physical Web because they see the universal Physical Web logo, because they have otherwise learned of Physical Web content, or just because they are scanning out of curiosity.

Where Can I Get Physical Web Logo Stickers?

You can make your own with the source files available in our marketing resources library or you can buy some from StickerMule.

Is it Possible to Push Messages or Notifications from a Physical Web Beacon?

By design, the Physical Web does not push messages, so the general answer here is “no.” While the Physical Web will enhance our lives by enabling convenient access to content and interaction from the things around us, it would be a grand nuisance if all these things were pushing for our attention.

Places and things on the Physical Web communicate through their websites. Google is working on technology that will allow users to opt in to push messages from individual websites. It’s called Service Worker. This approach makes sense for the Physical Web, where users may only want a few important things to push messages. Service worker is available on Android, but not on iOS.

What About Privacy on the Physical Web?

It’s protected. The Physical Web is built for long term, mass adoption, and as such it cannot risk consumer backlash from either aggressive push messages, or from secretly tracking its users.

Privacy mode is the default mode of browsing the Physical Web, which makes use of a proxy server to mask user device information from scanned websites. Physical Web browsers work this way and will always be the most common client for browsing the Physical Web. Be aware that when a consumer actually selects a website, then that website can collect device information and use cookies.

Is It Possible to Track People on the Physical Web?

Yes, for customers who browse the Physical Web through mobile apps who have agreed to share their location, it is possible to gather a great amount of information about a customer’s shopping activities.  This is especially true for gathering information about the products or services with which the consumer interacts.

Where Do I Get Content to Put on the Physical Web?

You might already have it. Physical Web content is all presented in the form of a Web page (URL). As such, a Physical Web beacon can point to an existing URL, or even deep link to content in an app.

If the content you need does not already exist, it’s inexpensive to create and manage with the thousands of existing tools and platforms for Web page creation and management.

One important thing to note about those websites: Physical Web browsers commonly display meta content from the destination URL, therefore it is important that the messages in the metadata within the code of the page, are applicable to the content you’re promoting on the Physical Web. The site’s favicon is also a useful visual cue for visitors. Newer browsers are starting to incorporate Structured Data into their markup to make end-user previews more informative.

What Other Tools Can I Use with the Physical Web?

The genius of the Physical Web is that it is built on top of the Web and leverages the familiar and existing powerful tools including cookies, redirect platforms, proxy servers, security filters, content management systems, Web page builders, Google analytics, digital marketing platforms, etc.

Exactly How Does PHY.net Relate to the Physical Web?

The home page for the Physical Web says it “is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand.” PHY.net is an extension of this concept. It is a cloud-based platform that leverages an assortment of Web technologies to vastly enhance the capabilities, metrics, and management tools available for Physical Web beacons.

Think of it this way… If the Physical Web is “Tony Stark” then PHY.net would be his Iron Man suit. PHY.net gives super powers to the Physical web, and it works with any Physical Web compatible beacon. Get a free account and take it for a test drive.

What’s Involved in Deploying Physical Web beacons?

It’s easy. Simply place a Physical Web beacon near the thing or place where people will need more information, then point the beacon to a URL with content related to that placement. If you later want to promote a different item, or the location changes, simply move the beacon and change the URL remotely with PHY.net.

This simplicity is a big advantage for the Physical Web over iBeacons, which typically take skilled installers to “pair” with individual beacons during setup and “tune” the beacon network. It often costs more to install an iBeacon than to buy it.

PHY.net also has an “easy-install” feature that enables Physical Web beacons to automatically set general configurations based on preset account preferences, which even further simplifies beacon installs.

Do Batteries Last Longer with Physical Web Beacons than iBeacons?

As a matter of fact, they do – much longer. This is because of differences in the underlying protocols and in their purposes. Because a primary function of iBeacons is to track people, they have to broadcast more frequently to be able to monitor people’s movements, while Physical Web beacons just have be there when people look.

The net of all of this is that a beacon with two AAA batteries might last about 7 months in an iBeacon configuration, while the same beacon will last about 4 years when deployed on the Physical Web.

Can I Monitor the Battery State of Physical Web Beacons?

Yes, by making use of the Eddystone-TLM frame. With PHY.net, certain brands of beacons, such as those from BKON, allow direct and automatic management of battery state without enabling alternate frame types. It is important also that all Physical Web battery-monitoring methodologies work with non-connectible beacons.

Be aware that all major beacon protocols now either promote or mandate that beacons be in a “non-connectible state” (non-connectible means that the beacon is not listening for an external connection). This increases the security and it reduces the battery consumption of both the beacon and users’ mobile devices. Any beacon fleet management platforms that rely upon connecting to beacons to monitor their batteries are at risk of becoming obsolete.

Is There More to the Physical Web Than Content?

Yes, interaction. A fascinating capability of the Physical Web is the ability to directly interact with nearby things. See these two examples that also make use of Wi-Fi: candy machine and an extra large video display.

The new Web Bluetooth technology will also allow for direct interaction, without Wi-Fi. This exciting new space is ripe for innovation and exploitation.