BKON Connect unveils an expanded platform for browsing the real world
It offers an SDK that allows any app to browse web content from real-world touch points via Eddystone beacons, QR codes or NFC tags.
For the past two years, Nashville-based firm BKON Connect has offered its PHY platform in support of the browser-based Physical Web.
In the Google-driven but open Physical Web, small beacons in the real world broadcast URLs, so nearby users with a Chrome or other compatible mobile browser can check out relevant web page content associated with those real-world locations.
For example, customers might look at the menu of a restaurant while standing outside on the street, simply by clicking a link in their mobile browser that has been broadcast from that establishment’s beacon.
The Eddystone-protocol beacons in this Physical Web differ from regular beacons, which simply broadcast a location identifier to a supported app, which then pings a retailer’s server to call up info. You have to first download the app supported by that retailer, and then the info appears in the app only after the retailer’s server recognizes the location and sends the appropriate content to the app.
But BKON is now pointing to another way of exploring the real world.
It has recently expanded its PHY platform beyond supported browsers, and beyond the Physical Web, to use cases where people can immediately see content on their phone from three kinds of interactive touch points in the real world.
The company has issued a software development kit (SDK) for any iOS or Android app that turns it into a kind of browser for real-world content summoned by QR codes, NFC (Near-Field Communication) tags or Physical Web beacons.
CEO and co-founder Richard Graves told me that he’s not aware of anyone else offering a similar SDK for turning an app into a browser of these three kinds of hot spots.
For instance, a retailer like Target might integrate the SDK into its store app. The in-store customer can then use that app to see links to web pages from Eddystone beacons, or she can scan a printed QR code on an aisle display to immediately see a preview of web content. The preview can include a link to more detailed web content.
Or the user can employ the same app to see a preview of content related to an NFC tag. Tapping your NFC-reading phone on an NFC-equipped register at the retailer’s counter almost immediately calls up a preview of related content, and the user can then link to additional content if desired. (This only works for Android devices, as NFC reading on iOS devices is limited to Apple Pay.)
Graves acknowledged that QR codes had fallen out of favor with some marketers, but he added that they’re undergoing a kind of revival because of their recent use by Facebook, Twitter, Samsung, WeChat and others.
The difference here, he said, is that the QR code is used to generate a URL, and then the content is being displayed via the company’s Physical Web platform. Instead of a user scanning the code and then waiting for the main content to load in order to see what’s there, a user can quickly get a preview of content and then can link to the full stash if so desired.
Similarly, he said, a user doesn’t need to wait to load the main content associated with the NFC touch point. You just need to look at the quickly-loading preview and decide if you want to know more.
Graves also pointed out that PHY’s new dashboard lets an organization generate content for all three kinds of physical touch points — Eddystone beacons, QR codes or NFC. Here’s a screen from the dashboard:
Of course, enabling an app to become a real-world browser seems to work against the Physical Web’s biggest advantage over regular beacons — you only need a compatible mobile browser, instead of having to download a compatible app.
In fact, Physical Web browsing in the Chrome browser is getting easier. Graves noted that Google is now rolling out the capability for broadcast links to automatically show up under the Google search box in Chrome when you’re nearby, instead of a more complex previous interface.
But, he said, seeing the real world through a PHY-enhanced app allows an organization to present all three physical-world browsing experiences through one piece of software, the supported app.
The platform’s initial deployments include the Wond’ry center for innovation at Vanderbilt University (see photo at top of this page) and the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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