Google Explores Its Own Beacons, But How Much Here-Ness Do We Want?

Apple stole a march on Google by capturing the Bluetooth LTE buzz with its iBeacon protocols last year. Forget that most proximity-aware implementations are more press release than reality right now, the iBeacon seems to dominate mindshare, even as multiple techniques and technologies are managing machine-to-machine interactions. But Google seems ready to strike back with its own approach to activating the here and now.

According to Android Police, the search giant is planning to soon test a system called Nearby that will allow personal connections between your device and nearby people, locations and activated objects. It has been detected in unreleased versions of Google Play, where people will have an opportunity to opt-in. Apparently, its machine-to-machine crosstalk will leverage a number of different protocols and sensors to establish presence and allow interaction. To quote directly from the Google Play description:

“Nearby lets you connect, share, and do more with people, places, and things near you.

“When Nearby is turned on for your account, Google can periodically turn on the mic, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and similar features on all your current and future devices. Google+ and other Google services need this access to help you connect, share, and more.

When you turn on Nearby, you're also turning on Location History for your account and Location Reporting for this device. Google needs these services to periodically store your location data for use by Nearby, other Google services, and more.”

The idea seems to be giving your device the ability to detect another Android-powered object, but also to use things like the microphone to detect other activity in the space. Obviously, the first use case that comes to mind is Beacon-like interactions in a retail space. Using a combination of signals, Nearby probably could locate you at shelf and aisle level in retail for seamless interactions and activations. It could also make in-house interactions more seamless for home automation. The microphone functionality fascinates me, because it would seem to make the device not only proximity-aware but media-aware. Conceivably, it could let the device know what your are watching on TV or listening to on the radio in order to synchronize mobile media or advertising.

The opt-in procedures here could be dizzying, however. Protecting privacy and pestering would likely require a pretty high level of user profile management -- deciding what people, places and things you want to detect and be detected by. But this is an early indicator of what personal M2M reality looks like. The world of connected objects and Internet of Things has the capacity to talk with one another in ways that are typically as promising as they are creepy.

The potential for an almost superpowered “Here-Ness” comes to mind with these technologies. From as far back as I can recall in covering mobile media, the prospect of turning the world itself into a World Wide Web has been an obvious endpoint to the technologies. At the very first OMMA Mobile back in 2007 we had a panel called “The Clickable World” that contemplated the first technologies like QR codes that helped people activate moments and things to add a layer of digital media. The long promise of mobility has been to somehow knit together that massive digital media world we have built online and the physical world and experience.

As cool as this is for retailers, perhaps TV advertisers and Google, it is unclear how much here-ness we want. How much do we want place and proximity-hyper-activated?

Just as hyper-connectivity has led people to seek moments of unplugged-ness, a hyper-activated Internet of Things will require a prominent off switch. 

1 comment about "Google Explores Its Own Beacons, But How Much Here-Ness Do We Want?".
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  1. Richard Bagdonas from Mahana, June 11, 2014 at 2:59 p.m.

    We at Mahana ( would like to see more parity of offerings between iOS and Android. Our clients have customers with both types of phones and it is going to be quite challenging as momentum continues to build.

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