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Google?s Eddystone has opportunity to take beacon leadership from Apple

Google?s Eddystone could be a big step forward for beacons but, if Apple does not play along, this could potentially set the stage for another standards war. 

While beacons have garnered a lot attention since Apple introduced iBeacon almost two years ago, the company has pretty much taken a hands-off approach to supporting development. Google is hoping to change this with Eddystone, which delivers a cross-platform and application-independent platform but for marketers and developers to really benefit, Apple will need to support it. 

?Google does have the chance to really take the lead from Apple and set the standards for beacons,? said Gary Lee, CEO of InReality. ?That could be an advantage from an analytics standpoint.  

?Google has many challenges including what will Apple's move be in support or hindrance of this competing protocol?,? he said. 

?This also has the makings of another standards war. Think BluRay vs. HD-DVD, HTML5 vs Flash, mp3 vs AAC, H.264/H.265 vs VP9, QR codes vs  Microsoft TAGs.?

Beacon support
Google announced on Tuesday new tools in support of beacon technology, including a new open format for Bluetooth low energy beacons to communicate with people?s devices called Eddystone, a way to add this data to apps and to Google?s services and a way to manage a fleet of beacons. 

Having two such big mobile players ? Apple and Google - behind beacon technology is an important development on its own. 

?Google providing services to the beacosystem validates our thesis: That micro location will be a huge part of our lives in the near future,? said Todd Dipaola, CEO of inMarket. "Smarter" phones that are less input-dependent and more ambient intelligent will be commonplace in the very near future.?

New rivalry
However, the entry of Google does potentially set up a rivalry with Apple. 

Some companies have already invested substantially in iBeacon infrastructure and may now need to update existing beacons to ones that support both protocols, per InReality?s Mr. Lee. At the moment, it appears that only a couple of the Eddystone approved providers have dual-purpose iBeacon/Eddystone beacons.  

Google says that existing beacons be updatable to be Eddystone compatible with a firmware update. 

It also appears that Google wants to take a proactive stance in developing the beacon space that Apple has done so far. 

?Apple's furthering of the iBeacon protocol has been very stagnant since it's announcement,? Mr. Lee said. ?They have honestly taken a very hands off approach to the protocol, including fixing a few inherent flaws, such as problematic support outside of iOS and the need for an app to be installed prior to it's usage.  

?Google's announcement really takes the fundamental premise of a "beacon" to the level it should have been at on day one,? he said. ?It is cross platform and can be "app" independent.  

?Additionally, the amount of data that will be included in the beacon's broadcast is greater than that of an iBeacon, allowing for more options in the beacon experience.? 

It will still be up to marketers and developers to come up with engaging experiences that are worth their customers? time if beacons are not to go the way of the QR code. 

Range of use cases
Eddystone promises to support a wider range of use cases for BLE beacon than is currently possible because it is an open format that anyone can use. It is also capable of supporting Android, iOS or any platform that supports BLE beacons. 

Google has built in a security feature called Ephemeral Identifiers that change frequently so that consumers can accomplish tasks such as identifying their luggage once they get off a plane and have their privacy safeguarded. 

Key benefits for developers include the promise of better semantic context and precise location. The Nearby API for Android and iOS makes it easier for apps to find and communicate with nearby devices and beacons. The Proximity API lets developers associate semantic location and related data with beacons, stored in the cloud. 

Existing BLE beacons can be made Eddystone compliant with a firmware update. 

A number of companies have build beacons that work with Eddystone, including, Radius Networks and Bluvision. 

Readying deployments
Google has already or is readying several beacon deployments. 

Google Maps launched beacon-based transit notifications in Portland earlier this year, helping commuters get faster access to real-time transit schedules for specific stations. 

Google Now will soon be able to use this contextual information to help prioritize the most relevant cards. For example, users can see menu items when they are inside a restaurant.

Users will not always need an app to interact with beacons. The Physical Web project will be using Eddystone beacons that broadcast URLs to help people interact with their surroundings. 

?Most consumers don't care about the technical details of how micro-location works ? and that's the way it should be,? Mr. Dipaola said. ?Simple experiences that improve consumer's lives are the killer apps for microlocation. 

?Google was always been good at focusing on elegant solutions and we welcome them into the industry with new ideas,? he said. 

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York