A new Google project aims to create nothing less than an open standard for the entire “Internet of Things,” which the company’s Chrome team is calling the Physical Web.
The idea is to create a comparatively simple system, using a subscribed discovery service, of beacons broadcasting URLs to smartphones in a given area, allowing users to interact with vending machines, posters, and bus stops in a location-aware, organic way, using only Bluetooth and web technology – no specialized app required.
Google product strategist Scott Jenson said that the problem the Physical Web is designed to solve is one of scale.
“The number of smart devices is going to explode in number, both in our homes and in public space,” he wrote in the project’s readme on GitHub. “But the overhead of installing an app for each one just doesn't scale. We need a system that lets someone walk up and use a device with just a tap.”
Google seems to be aware that the Physical Web is likely to raise the eyebrows of its privacy critics and taken steps to allay potential fears in that direction – the URL broadcast method currently being used does involve Bluetooth, but a user’s device never connects directly to the beacons, which means that his location is never revealed.
Moreover, the company highlights that another key principle will be an absence of active notifications.
“The user will only see a list of nearby devices when they ask,” Jenson wrote. “If your phone were to be buzzing constantly as you walked through the mall, it would be very frustrating.”
Google also pledged to treat the Physical Web project as an open web standard – not just an extension of the company’s own ecosystem. “This can't be a product that is locked down by a single company,” wrote Jenson.