We started 2017 by (optimistically) predicting that a major social network would empower their users to “advertise” their profile to specific physical places they visit. In other words:
We expected 2017 to be the dawn of seamless PHYSICAL social networking.
We had high hopes for Snap when this year we observed their Spectacles transmitting uniquely-identifiable Bluetooth “advertising” packets. Would Snap equip hip venues to recognise their young, uninhibited, Spectacled users, deliver them unforgettable, personalised real-world experiences, and make rivals Facebook look even more like a boring platform for their parents? No.
How about Facebook? We caught up with them at Place Conference again this year where they shared how they had reached 2 billion monthly active users, and how 1 in 10 people open their app while in retail stores. Wow! Would Facebook swoop in as brick-and-mortar retail’s sole saviour by sharing their view of the customer, detected in-store via the Facebook app? How about if we shared with them the exact technical blueprints to make it happen? No.
How about Google? In February, we updated our own reelyApp to show how Google’s Physical Web could let users “advertise” themselves to their surroundings in a web-standard format. When running the app, people would approach us and curiously inquire “how did your profile get on my phone?” Would Google leverage their popular browser, mobile OS and understanding of the user to make browsing the “Physical Web” as seamless as browsing online? No.
We even asked Scott Jenson (then) director of the Physical Web, at Bluetooth World 2017, about this powerful feature to which he replied that “it’s not intended for the average person to advertise themselves.” Indeed, while Google will let you do it, they don’t want you to (does that qualify as permissionless innovation?) and the fragmented Android hardware results in inconsistent Bluetooth behaviour. Apple on the other hand can boast about their devices’ Bluetooth stability, but severely restricts what a mobile application can actually transmit (the Eddystone packets of the Physical Web are a definite no-no).
Why do we continue to put up with paying $500 for rectangles that impede the potential of physical social networking?
Seriously. Since our pioneering technology demo in 2013 and the subsequent GigaOM article that highlighted the potential, aside from several retail and smart office apps we developed with our partners, we haven’t identified a single major mobile application that enables the recognition of its users on a human scale, in the real world. It’s as if Apple and Google don’t want this to happen — and perhaps, sadly, that is the most logical conclusion.
Why buy a $500 rectangle when a $5 rectangle can do the job?
2017 was a big year for the post-mobile, $5 rectangle future:
- the $5 beacons exist in rectangular (and other) form factors, are now reliable, and can be reliably sourced
- a growing family of such beacons can have their behaviour programmed by even a non-technical person through a web browser (see puckyActive)
- a ubiquitous in-building infrastructure to “hear” these beacons has seen the light
In less-technical terms, that means you can buy and wear/carry a tiny $5 device whenever you’d like to be automatically recognised by a physical space. That could be in your smart workplace which assists you to perform your work more efficiently (our top application today). That could be at a smart venue which assists you to physically network like a boss while your mobile remains tucked away in your pocket. In time, every space will have the ability to recognise its occupants who choose if/what they’d like to share. Are we perhaps approaching peak-mobile?
Those who remember reelyActive in 2012 undoubtedly remember our live directory where your physical presence in a venue was indicated on an ambient display. In anticipation of what’s to come, we’ve now revived and revamped the Live Directory, as well as introduced other calm visualisations such as Sonar and Raindrops.
Why get your information from a $500 5-inch screen when a 32-inch+ screen is provided by the venue and is free to recognise what should be displayed to you!
We find it difficult not to be optimistic about the future that we’ve already created for ourselves. But to share this future with a broad audience, it seems imperative to first overcome both the entrenched mobile-centric view of the universe and the comfort of incremental change. Not easy, but not impossible.
Imagine, at CES 2019, row upon row of vendors selling custom cases for $5 rectangles. As in Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come.