Samsung has announced support for Physical Web URL detection in its Samsung Internet browser – the default for Samsung devices.
Called CloseBy, the support allows users to activate an extension to their browser which will then deliver a notification when they’re “close by” to a Physical Web beacon. Tapping on the notice, the user is taken to a Web page within the Samsung Internet browser.
The Physical Web is an open source standard for broadcasting a URL from a Bluetooth LE beacon, Wi-Fi direct or other hardware.
CloseBy is still in beta and is reporting its share of glitches. These will be worked out.
But for brands, retailers and developers there’s increasingly a larger challenge in how to effectively managing the end user experience.
Fragmentation is a potential problem. When coupled with the fact that Physical Web has been designed primarily with a “lean-forward” consumer in mind, this is creating a challenge in consumer education.
- If you want to make sure that most of your users (say, visitors to your store) can be made aware of and “see” a Physical Web URL, some sort of visual prompt is required
- This is caused by an inability to actively notify users that there is a URL nearby. In theory, your Physical Web URL will appear 100% of the time in the notification tray (although there are serious enough issues with this as well). But getting users to check their notification tray requires some sort of physical world prompt (a sign, say).
- Google Nearby attempts to solve this by “surfacing” notices. How this happens is opaque.
- To solve for these challenges, a retailer or location should provide signage or prompts. Just like consumers needed to learn the purpose and use of QR Codes, the theory is that they’ll also learn about Physical Web URLs.
But with the Samsung launch, we now have another series of steps a consumer needs to take to “see” a Physical Web URL.
So how do you resolve the different types of education needed for different devices? It seems unbearable to think of a Physical Web sign with different activation instructions for 3-4 different device types!
(We haven’t even discussed iOS where Physical Web is available through notification widgets for Google Chrome!).
Change is Good. Change is Bad.
Further complicating issues is that there are changes happening with little education of the ‘beacon industry’ and developers.
A stellar comment by “mjanke67” on GitHub captures the heart of the issue:
I would suggest that until that level of Physical Web adoption occurs, users simply won’t drop their drawers (ed: notification tray) to check for scanned Nearby objects. Ultimately, the Physical Web adoption may never grow because it has been setup for future and not current levels of adoption. To address this – it is key that users retain their ability to view Nearby Notifications in both the Status Bar and Lock screen. To ensure that users don’t get offended by too many notifications, disable their display within the Lock Screen by default but give them the ability to enable notifications on the Lock Screen if they so desire. This same control (or another) could be used to enable display of an icon within the Status Bar when a notification has been added to the drawer. With this level of control in place, interested users can be shown or taught how to get notified by Physical Web objects. Disinterested users will leave Status Bar and Lock Screen notifications disabled (their default state) and will be unaffected.
Another key point that I would raise is that Nearby Notifications did exist within the original deployment of Nearby within Google Play Services (GPS) and were removed without warning after my company and others built product around the Nearby featureset. Removing original service features without discussion or warning is (choosing my words carefully) – very very uncool.
This last point is worth noting: features may change without warning.
And while many of them might be in the end service of users, or in the end service of providing a balance between users and developers/locations, it can be disconcerting (or a show stopper) to plan an entire roll-out only to have the use case itself change in a significant way before (or during) launch.
So, sure, all of these tweaks and improvement are good – but they often come with a lack of explanation and non-existent access to meaningful interaction data.
Samsung Gets Closer?
So, Samsung now supports Physical Web URL detection. It joins Opera (which I think was first to the party) but clearly represents a far more substantive audience.
But there are a few things left unclear – and maybe anyone testing the beta version can chime in with a comment below.
- Is CloseBy like Google Nearby in how it “surfaces” notifications? Their post and screen shots seem to show a lock screen notice.
- If it does display a lock screen notice, is this a 100% reliable notification?
In other words, at what step does the following screen appear in a user’s journey?
Second, Samsung mentions a server:
Upon receiving a URL from the Physical Web object, your phone sends that up to our servers in order to find the title of the page and determine whether to show it.
Can we assume that this is simply a way to parse a URLs metadata in order to display a notice? Where does this content come from? How do the fields on a web page match over to the notice that the user sees?
And are these notices consistent with how other Physical Web detection works, or will developers need to create different metatags for different systems?
It’s an exciting time for the beacon industry. The Physical Web, Samsung CloseBy and Google Nearby are giving options across devices for the delivery of messages to users.
To fully take advantage of beacons, the next step would be to lead a user to download a beacon-capable app. Within an app, a developer can more finely control and measure the impact of proximity on an end user.
So, this part of the “funnel” is important and Samsung’s entry is a welcome development.
But the large beacon ‘ecosystem’ is leading to a fast-changing and fragmented set of user experiences which will create new challenges in how we educate consumers and how we prompt them in physical spaces.
Share Your Thoughts – Have You Tested CloseBy?
Have you tested Samsung Internet? What has your experience been? How well does it handle notifications and consumer on-boarding? And how well do you think we’ll be able to manage consumer interactions and education?
Drop a comment below, or pop me a note on Twitter.