Google’s Eddystone vs Apple’s iBeacon: Who is winning in the Beacon Space in 2016?
Last Updated:  May 8, 2018
It goes without saying that a lot has happened in the beacon space since the launch of iBeacon at WWDC 2013. With more and more marketers including beacons as a critical part of their digital marketing budgets, proximity has now turned into a serious business. These tiny devices have moved beyond retail and are currently being leveraged by a vast spectrum of verticals. One of the events that had a huge impact on the beacon industry is the launch of Google’s Eddystone in July 2015.
However, while Eddystone managed to create a huge amount of buzz with its ability to finally do away with the need for a beacon-enabled app, we didn’t see any major updates being announced or hear about any serious Eddystone deployments till January 2016. However, a lot has changed over the past 6 months. Right from the tight integration of Google’s Nearby API and Eddystone beacon protocols, to the launch of Android Instant Apps, Google is fast pushing its efforts towards making physical web a reality. On the other hand, iBeacon failed to even see a mention in Apple’s keynote address at WWDC 2016.
But it didn’t need to end up this way – Apple literally ruled the beacon market in the early days with iBeacon protocol leading the way ahead for proximity marketing. And being one of the first companies to launch a beacon protocol, Apple had ample opportunity to enhance and improve the technology. But a few World Wide Developer Conferences later, iBeacon has been left abandoned with minimal updates.
In this blog, we will discuss in detail about the latest updates made by Google and Apple on the beacon front in 2016 and which of these giants is poised to dominate the proximity marketing industry going ahead.
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How Google’s Eddystone is leading the pack
The traction that Eddystone has seen in terms of adoption in the past 6 months is nothing short of amazing. According to the recent Proxbook Q1 2016 report, the gap between Apple’s iBeacon and Eddystone is fast closing with 45% of leading proximity marketing companies supporting Eddystone as of Q1 2016, up from 25% in Q3 2015.
One of the primary factors driving this disruption in the beacon space is Google’s efforts at providing an innovative ecosystem by tightly integrating Eddystone with its other products like Google Maps. Although Google launched Eddystone 2 years late into the beacon market, it was quick to realize that as long as Eddystone existed in isolation from the entire Google platform, the two additional frame types offered by Eddystone may not be appealing enough for businesses that have already succeeded with iBeacon technology.
So, let’s take a look at the recent Eddystone updates that have paved the way for Google as a leader in the proximity marketing space:
(1) Launch of Chrome support on Android for Eddystone
With Android accounting for 80% of the smartphone market, late support of URLs on Android was turning out to be one of the primary factors that held many businesses back from trying Eddystone out. And then things changed in February 2016 when Google released Chrome support on Android for Eddystone. This release enabled 800 million additional users to seamlessly interact with beacons – a number so huge that it has since then played a significant role in the widespread adoption of beacons beyond the early adopters. So much so that, according to ABI Research, over half of the 400M beacons in 2020 will be Eddystone enabled.
(2) Eddystone gets a security upgrade with the launch of Ephemeral IDs (EIDs)
It is no secret that Eddystone was more focused on at businesses and enterprises looking to leverage proximity marketing. However, in March 2016 Google announced EID, a secure beacon format mode that allows for a more personalized experience, in their hopes to find their way into the consumer goods market. While beacons are basically looked at as a one-way street for passing information, EIDs help create a secure environment for beacons to send information to users or even allow users to communicate with beacons. At its core, EIDs are basically encrypted IDs that self-destruct after a given period of time — anywhere between one second and nine hours.
As a result, hackers won’t be able to accurately spoof the location of a specific beacon, when multiple beacons are put to use. And given the fact that security and privacy concerns around beacons has been one of the primary barriers preventing beacon adoption by the consumer market, Eddystone has clearly addressed this challenge head on with EID. In fact, Samsonite recently announced its plans to release a suitcase with an Eddystone-EID beacon built right in to help users keep track of their luggage, later this year.
(3) Google Maps to use beacon technology to support targeted ads
In their efforts to drive online searches to in-store purchases, Google recently announced that the new local search ads across Google Maps will use beacon technology to support targeted ads and information. For example, when consumers type “coffee near me” into the Google Maps app search bar, a business that paid for an ad would appear first in the search results. Addition of beacon technology will equip Google Maps with the ability to serve ads on a user’s mobile device based on location and proximity of the user to a specific store and advertiser. With 30% of monthly searches on Google estimated to be closely related to locations, the tactic of integrating mobile ads with directions to bricks-and-mortar stores via Google maps might just be the perfect location-based marketing technique that businesses have been in search for long.
(4) Launch of the Google Nearby feature that works with Android Instant Apps
One of the major highlights of Google I/O 2016 held last month was the announcement of ‘Android Instant Apps’ – a feature that enables Android apps to run instantly, without requiring installation. And while Google only plans to roll it out slowly, the feature has already generated quite a buzz, given its ability to make the native app experience as convenient as surfing a web site. This is done by allowing developers to modularise their app into small, runnable parts that can start within a few seconds.
For example, brands can leverage Android Instant Apps to allow users to instantly launch the app and locate items they want to buy in the store without having to install the shopping app. All the retail brand has to do is update the existing app and modularise it. Once that is done, Google Play will then only download those parts that are needed to provide users with access to certain proximity features on the fly, without them having to install the app.
Adding on to that Google recently unveiled Nearby Notifications, a feature that will suggest contextually relevant applications or mobile websites to a user based on his/her current location. For example, say a user happens to be at a museum that offers audio tours on their app. The museum could leverage Nearby Notifications to notify the user about the audio tour feature on the app.
The one and only iBeacon update announced at WWDC 2016
While there was no mention of iBeacon in the WWDC 2016 keynote address, Apple added a new policy to the ‘Mobile Device Management (MDM)’ policy. MDM allowed businesses to trigger setting changes in iPhones and iPads when the device is in range or out of range of a beacon. However, it has not been possible to ensure that this policy is enforced because the user could just turn off Bluetooth and no beacons would be detected. All of this is set to change in the latest version of iOS that was announced at WWDC 2016.
Image Source: proxidyne.com
In iOS 10, Apple is introducing a new policy key called “allowBluetoothModification” under MDM, that can be set to true or false. As per this update, when the device is in supervisor mode (i.e allow modifying Bluetooth settings mode), once this key is set to false, the user cannot turn off Bluetooth and the device will always be notified when in range of a beacon to trigger a change in policy settings on the device. This represents a huge change to how iPhones and iPads can be managed, as it allows brands to specify certain policies based on proximity.
Given the rate at which Google’s Eddystone is seeing a massive surge in adoption, WWDC 2016 was probably Apple’s last chance at elevating iBeacon from an abandoned project to the star of the show. And by not having announced any major update on the iBeacon front, Apple has probably kickstarted an imminent movement – migration of developers to a “Google-only” proximity strategy.
Google, on the other hand, has been busy focusing all its efforts towards enhancing users’ proximity experience and is fast working towards integrating Eddystone protocols with other service, to provide more value.
But the true game changer here is the Physical Web. By empowering browsers (Chrome for now) with the capability to detect and control all kinds of BLE devices, the Physical Web is fast realizing Google’s aim of creating a web that reacts to the physical world. When it comes to proximity marketing, Google definitely seems to be leading the way, while Apple is left far behind.
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