Why Google’s Nearby Could Erase A Major Hurdle For Beacon Use

The feature, available only for Google Android devices, promotes beacon discovery — all without the need to pre-install a branded app.

Google may have addressed one of the main points of friction for beacon adoption with the release of a featured dubbed “Nearby” in its Android-based Google Play store.

Typically, a consumer must already have a store or brand’s dedicated, beacon-enabled mobile app installed on their smartphone in order to access a signal from Apple’s iBeacon or Google’s Eddystone system. And that’s fine when it comes to reaching a physical brand’s most regular, most affiliated consumers. But in terms of targeting a brand’s uninitiated, the beacon might as well be on the dark side of the moon, since the vast majority of casual shoppers aren’t aware the technology even exists.

With the rollout of Google’s Nearby, which is only available for Android phones, the idea of beacons as tools for consumers’ discovery appears to be taking a significant leap forward.

“The Play Store offers over one million apps — many of which are created to be used in specific locations or situations,”Akshay Kannan, Product Manager, Nearby, wrote in a blog post.

“The right app at the right moment lets you get more done,” Kannan continued. “For example, at a store, you may want a barcode scanner to check prices and reviews for an item. Or when you’re at a museum, an audio tour would enhance the experience as you make your way around the exhibits.

But getting the right apps at the right time can be tough if you don’t already know about them, Kannan pointed out. To address that problem, Nearby notifies users of apps that can be helpful when they’re in proximity to an Eddystone-compatible beacon.

How Nearby Works

To use Nearby, users just have to turn on Bluetooth and Location functions. Once those functions are in place, Google will send a notification if a nearby app or website is available. Once the user has opted-in, tapping on a notification takes them straight into the intended experience. (If someone is not interested, they can just swipe it away to give Google a clear signal.)

Among the examples of what Android users will be prompted to do when passing near an Eddystone signal:

Google Gets More Physical

 In addition to Android-based smartphones, some other Google devices, including Google Cast and Android Wear watches, will also let wearers access beacons simply by tapping a notification when one is within range of a signal.

The launch of Nearby marks a further advance of Google’s embrace of the Physical Web concept, the open-source method of interacting with beacons introduced by the search giant last summer. The aim of the Physical Web is to make it simpler for objects in the real world to communicate with consumers’ smartphones in the age of the Internet of Things.

“Essentially, what they they’ve said is you no longer need an app,” said Rob Murphy, VP of marketing for proximity platform Swirl. “These signals are broadening, the hardware providers are joining these signals. You see wifi and Bluetooth Low Energy signals coming together. All the lighting manufacturers connecting the new LED bulbs with Bluetooth signals in them. The infrastructure emerging to allow proximity signals to reach a more massive audience. That’s why I see the industry entering the next wave and why we’re seeing this momentum around beacon uses and beyond.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.