What’s coming up for Bluetooth on the web?

Rob Olmos
Vice President, CTO

Update 2016-09-19: Added Estimote Mirror that was recently announced.

Bluetooth has come a long way since it’s inception in 1994. There are some exciting new innovations being worked on beyond just the standard beacons. We’ll guide you through a few that we think are most exciting to the web.

Web Bluetooth

Web Bluetooth is a standard that’s in development to allow devices to interact with other devices over Bluetooth within the web browser. Chrome is already testing this out. Currently, usage of Bluetooth is only allowed by native apps, but in the near future a website may be able to utilize Bluetooth.

Google demoed this tech at I/O with an example that combined Physical Web for discovery. The example allowed a dispensing machine to be discovered, a web page to be linked in that discovery, and the web page to interact with the machine over Bluetooth to dispense an item. No native apps to download and no QR codes to bother with. Hopefully no annoying chatbots either, for now.

The I/O talk is here: https://youtu.be/vyfy7AdPk2g — jump to 10:30 to see the candy machine demo.

Physical Web

Physical Web is an addition to the Bluetooth beacon protocol that allows a beacon to broadcast a URL. With a Chrome browser app on iOS or Android, or also Opera now, a user can receive a notification of the URL being broadcasted by a nearby object. This uses the Eddystone URL broadcast protocol and requires that Location and a data connection both be enabled with an HTTPS URL.

You don’t need an actual beacon to experiment with this either. Grab the “Beacon Toy” app and turn your phone into a Physical Web beacon with an HTTPS URL.

Nearby Notifications

Nearby Notifications look a lot like Physical Web and it’s pretty confusing between the two. Google basically says that if you need more capability than just broadcasting a URL, such as deep-linking in to an app with an intent, then to use Nearby Notifications. These still operate similarly to the Physical Web with how the user is notified of nearby objects.

If you’re curious about the lower-level differences between Physical Web and Nearby Notifications, check out our article on the topic that’ll be published soon.

Encrypted Beacons

Encrypted beacons allow the beacon identifier to be changed periodically. The identifier is essentially encrypted and can only be decrypted if you have access to the secret. This allows companies to ensure that only their app can utilize their deployed beacons and provides protection from user spoofing, which can help ensure that a user is actually near the beacon instead of just spoofing the identifier. Google is making use of this via the Eddystone EID protocol.

Another benefit is that it can also help protect personal devices from being reliably tracked. That FitBit you’re wearing, does it rotate the identifier or randomize the Bluetooth MAC address? If not, then Bluetooth scanners can track its movement. Nothing new really but even worse is if they lack real security that allows them to glean profile data you registered with their service, such as your name. But that’s another article for another time.

Bluetooth v5

The fifth version of Bluetooth was announced in June 2016 and is expected to be complete by early 2017. The goal is to quadruple the range, double the data transfer speed of connections, and increase the data capacity of broadcasts by 800%, all while still maintaining the same power usage. More data transferred faster means beacons and devices can transfer more information. Instead of having the device connect to the web to retrieve the data behind a short identifier, all of that info can be contained within the beacon itself.

We’re curious which version of Bluetooth they’ll finally announce a mesh networking protocol like ZigBee already has. Or maybe battery operated beacons will adopt a power efficient WiFi instead, such as the upcoming 802.11ah.

Estimote’s Mirror

We figured we’d mention this one that was recently announced because it’s the first engaging two-way beacon that we’ve seen so far and it’s pretty slick. Essentially it can detect and receive information on other nearby beacons and Estimote SDK apps. It has onboard WiFI as an option as well.

Although the official beacon protocols are for very small broadcasts, from the Mirror’s details our assumption is that when using the Estimote SDK it can use Estimote’s custom data protocol to deliver encrypted information from the phone app straight to the Mirror, which it will use to display on the screen. Nice!

Check it out: https://youtu.be/FoVvPZRFd1I

Your Idea?

Have an idea or want to innovate your existing product with Bluetooth? Contact us today to help you make it a reality.

- Rob OlmosVice President, CTO | 

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