Why Google Eddystone Looms as an Apple iBeacon Killer

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2015-07-14 Print this article Print
Google Beacons

Like other beacon projects, The Physical Web uses Bluetooth LE. But instead of sending UUIDs, as iBeacon does, it sends URLs. The advantage of URLs is that they open a Web app in a browser, so they're more universally applicable.

The Physical Web is not a product, but an open-source project being developed by anyone who wants to participate.

Now There's Eddystone

This brings us to Google's July 14 announcement of Eddystone, which is named after a lighthouse on the shore of Devon, England.

The best way to think about Eddystone is that it's like a combination of iBeacon (which sends UUIDs) and the Physical Web (which sends URLs). Plus, it sends other things as well. It's also open source, cross platform and extensible. Eddystone is now available on GitHub under the open-source Apache 2.0 license.

Eddystone at its core is an open-source format that defines the language that beacons speak, so that app developers can also understand that language. It's an open Bluetooth LE format to which  anyone can contribute.

Google calls the chunks of data transmitted by Eddystone beacons "frame types." UUIDs and URLs are supported frame types, for example.

Google also launched some APIs, including one called the Nearby API, which enhances the accuracy and contextualization of the beacon's particular function. Nearby actually goes beyond beacons too, and can also function over WiFi or by high-frequency sound.

Another API, called the Proximity Beacon API, enables developers to offer contextual information about the location where the beacon is broadcasting.

And finally, Google is offering a way to manage a large number of beacons. Companies that want to better manage their beacons can use Eddystone’s telemetry frame (Eddystone­TLM) and the Proximity Beacon API, which together enable the beacons to report on battery status and problems with beacons.

While it's important to note that Eddystone itself is open source, the Nearby API and the Proximity Beacon are proprietary to Google.

Eddystone offers many improvements over existing beacon technologies. One of these is a frame type Google calls ephemeral identifiers, or EIDs. These can change frequency and are designed to allow only authorized apps or clients to receive and decode them.

Google also announced that its virtual assistant platform, Google Now, will soon be able to make use of Eddystone-supporting beacons. So as you walk into a restaurant, Google Now will give you specific data about where you are and what's available to you.

Here's why Eddystone should be an iBeacon killer.

Eddystone supporting apps can not only immediately read the UUIDs transmitted by existing iBeacon devices, but they can also do a lot more than iBeacon alone can do.

Eddystone enables enormous flexibility to expand on what iBeacon accomplishes. It also adds more contextual information, better targeting and security, along with the benefits that come from any open-source system, such as the ability to expand and contribute to the ongoing project.

The difference between iBeacon and Eddystone is not like the difference between iOS and Android. It's more like the difference between an iPod and an Android phone; one does one small, narrow thing, and the other does everything.

Eddystone is an iBeacon killer—or should be.


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