Google recently pushed out an update to its Chrome browser for the iPhone and iPad and added several key functions. Chrome 44 for iOS is the first version to add support for the Physical Web. It's all powered by beacon technology and APIs.
Google released the Physical Web specification, which relies on open source Web tools, last year. The idea is to smooth out how smartphones interact with their surrounding environment, specifically beacons. Beacons, of course, are location-based objects set up by retailers or others that communicate with Bluetooth-enabled devices when they wander into range. Most often, interactions are limited to simple notifications or alerts. They aren't always actionable. The Physical Web would make them actionable.
As you may recall, iOS 8 and up support limited widgets that appear in the notification shade. Users who swipe the shade down and select the "Today" view will often see their daily calendar and other real-time alerts that have been pushed to their iPhones. Developers are able to take advantage of these widgets to deliver up-to-date info as they see fit. A good example would be weather updates or alerts.
What does this have to do with Chrome? Google has, essentially, given Chrome the ability to push live information to the widgets found on the Today screen based on interactions with the Physical Web — but there are practical limitations.
Developers don't have too much incentive to take advantage of beacons, at least not until they are more widely deployed. Apple uses them in its own stores, for example, to contact iPhone owners who stop by. What's the point in adding beacon features that can't be used by the majority of phones to apps?
Google is giving developers a reason. It recently released Eddystone, its own beacon technology, along with a handful of APIs so developers can bring more beacons and their location-based tech to smartphones. The Eddystone project should spur adoption of beacons in the real, physical world and eventually lead to more Physical Web attributes within mobile applications.
It is interesting that Google brought this technology to the iPhone. Perhaps Google was motivated by the number of beacons available at Apple Stores. Theoretically speaking, companies that sell accessories at Apple Stores — and have apps that support those accessories — should be able to tap into iPhone owners' Apple Store visits to their benefit.
Eddystone is exciting. It will be interesting to see how developers take advantage of Eddystone and its APIs over time.
(Chrome 44 for iOS also received the ability to swipe between open tabs.)