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GeoMarketing 101: What’s The Difference Between Eddystone And iBeacon?

As major brands from Macy’s to Rite Aid deploy beacons, retailers are probing the relative benefits of both Apple and Google’s technologies.

From geo-targeting to beacons, location-based technology is opening up a world of possibilities for marketers — but it’s also complicated, as new capabilities and use cases seem to emerge every day.

With the goal of breaking down some of the most important “geo” concepts to provide a better understanding of the basics — and a jumping off point for exploring how far the power of location may take us — we introduce the next installment of our GeoMarketing 101 series: understanding Eddystone and iBeacon technology.

Apple vs. Google

The simplest point of differentiation between the two beacon formats is the companies behind them: Apple announced iBeacon in December 2013, whereas Google rolled out Eddystone (previously known in a different form as UriBeacon) in July 2015.

In terms of communicating with consumers’ devices, both technologies are now compatible with iOS and Android systems — though Eddystone is compatible with any platform that supports BLE beacons. For more information on the basics of beacons and how retailers might choose to use them, check out Geo 101: Beacons, here.

The crucial impact of the difference between Apple’s iBeacon technology and Google’s Eddystone is this: iBeacon can only communicate with apps, whereas Eddystone works across apps and browsers.

“Eddystone can do that because it’s really four different — but related — products,” said consultant and beacon specialist Stephen Statler. “Eddystone URL can ‘talk’ with browsers, while Eddystone UID and EID can talk with apps. Eddystone TLM is the fourth and works in the background to manage beacons.”

That’s a bit of complicated tech talk, but it boils down to this: The “proxy war” between Apple and Google over focusing primarily on apps or the mobile web is present here, and the two companies have taken slightly different approaches to how implementing place-based beacon technology. iBeacon favors delivering messages via app, whereas Google’s open-source strategy takes an interest in being able to broadcast to URLs. However, this may not be the case forever, and as beacon technology is still (relatively) new, some changes could be on the horizon.

Finally, as described in a blog post from Beaconstac, iBeacon technology is proprietary software, with specifications controlled by Apple. Eddystone, on the other hand, is open-source, and businesses and developers can access and contribute to it. Essentially, iBeacon is (at present) simpler to implement, but Eddystone is more flexible — and requires more complicated coding during integration because of this, as its versatility is due to the fact that it sends more “packets” of information than iBeacon.

Changes To Come?

Eddystone’s open-source approach to beacons has certainly changed the space. Because of its earlier emergence — and the widespread popularity of the iPhone in the smartphone age — iBeacon technology is often viewed as the “default” approach to beacons. But that could soon change: The open-source BLE platform has been forecasted to become the dominant standard in the BLE beacon industry by 2020, according to Beaconstac.

Why? Well, the idea behind Google’s open-source approach to beacons — and it’s Physical Web — is that as the proliferation of “smart devices” continues, it just isn’t practical to expect consumers to download a separate app each time they want to let a product or device communicate with their smartphone. The Physical Web is a bid to enable seamless connections when downloading yet another app just isn’t realistic.

But with Apple having expanded app indexing to the mobile web last year with deep linking, its possible that the iBeacon purveyor could have plans to expand its own integration capabilities as well.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of GeoMarketing.com. A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.