Google's 'open' Eddystone takes on Apple's iBeacons

The new BLE beacon format for increasing location awareness is aimed at Android and iOS

Google's 'open' Eddystone takes on Apple's iBeacons
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Google's introduction of Eddystone this week provides a multiplatform format for BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacons, boosting location awareness in mobile apps. It's designed to work on both Android and iOS devices, unlike the iBeacons technology that Apple debuted nearly two years ago.

Beacons are discoverable by devices that use BLE, a power-efficient version of the Bluetooth wireless technology. They transmit an identifier that a smartphone or other device looks up to get data, typically related to that beacon's location. Some beacons can send other data, such as from sensors.

"For instance, a beacon can label a bus stop so your phone knows to have your ticket ready, or a museum app can provide background on the exhibit you're standing in front of," said Chandu Thota, Google engineering director, and Matthew Kulick, Google product manager, in a blog post on Tuesday. "Today, we're beginning to roll out a new set of features to help developers build apps using this technology."

Eddystone, found on GitHub, serves as a protocol specification describing several different frame types. It is meant to work well with both Android and Apple iOS Bluetooth developer APIs, to be compliant with the Bluetooth Core Specification, and to have a straightforward implementation on a range of BLE devices. Apple's iBeacons protocol, by contrast, works only with Apple devices.

To enable better semantic context and precise location, Google is introducing as part of Eddystone its Nearby API, enabling Android and iOS apps to more easily communicate with nearby devices and beacons, and its Proximity Beacon API, associating semantic location with related data and beacons, stored in the cloud.

Google itself is starting to improve its own products and services with beacons, the bloggers said. Google Maps leverages beacon-based transit notifications in Portland, Ore., for faster access to transit schedules, and the Google Now personal assistant app soon will use contextual information to prioritize relevant cards, such as showing menu items in a restaurant.

Beacons implementing the Eddystone telemetry frame, Eddystone-TLM, in combination the Promixity Beacon API endpoint can help with monitoring of beacon battery health and displacement. For manufacturers, Eddystone's extensible frame formats allow support of multiple mobile platforms and application scenarios, the bloggers said.

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