July 18, 2015
Once again Google has taken advantage of developers’ rapid adoption to open source technologies and platforms by rolling out a new open format platform for Bluetooth low energy (BLE) electronics beacons. Beacon is not a new term in the tech industry. Apple’s iBeacon have been in the US retail stores since 2013. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s have used Apple’s iBeacons to provide a good experience to their customers inside the stores.
Google’s new open source specification is called Eddystone. In its most recent blog post, Google made an analogy between lighthouses and beacons by stating how lighthouses helped sailors to navigate across the globe and how beacons will help mobile devices identify locations and provide better experience to the users of various apps. This analogy gave Google’s beacon protocol its name Eddystone, which is a lighthouse in England.
Eddystone is available on GitHub under the open source Apache v2.0 license. Unlike iBeacon, Eddystone supports multiple types of framing data. It supports versioning and is compatible across Android, iPhone and other platforms that support BLE beacons. Beacons have a special identifier that lets any Bluetooth smart device identify its signal and perform actions. While discussing the security of this technology in a blog, Chandu Thota, Engineering Director and Matthew Kulick, Product Manager at Google said, Privacy and security are really important, so we built in a feature called Ephemeral Identifiers (EIDs) which change frequently, and allow only authorized clients to decode them. EIDs will enable you to securely do things like find your luggage once you get off the plane or find your lost keys.
To make the technology better for developers, Google is launching two APIs called Nearby API and Proximity Beacon API to give developers a better semantic context and accurate location. Since Eddystone supports multiple frame formats, it will be easier for hardware manufacturers to built beacons that are compatible with all mobile platforms and application types.
Google has been trying to leverage Eddystone’s capabilities to improve their products’ experience too. Recently, they implemented the beacon technology in Portland to provide users with beacon-based transit notifications. With high level of flexibility and compatibility with multiple devices and platforms, Google’s Eddystone may replace Apple’s iBeacons. But it is hard to predict anything in the tech industry, especially with big players like Apple and Google.