This is Part Three of a five part series I am calling “Invasion of The Things: How to Prepare Your Tourist Location for the Coming Mobile Apocalypse,” where I cover:

  1. How the things that make up your tourist location, like statues and historical buildings, can “talk” to modern mobile devices
  2. Four technologies you can use today, and their pros and cons
  3. One way overzealous marketers use technology to ruin your tourism brand
  4. Where a seismic shift in how you interact with mobile tourists is coming from, and how Google is investing heavily to make it happen
  5. Five things you need to do NOW to prepare for the invasion…of the Things

In Part One we learned there are four technologies that can make “dumb” (as in, non-communicative) things talk to mobile phones.

In Part Two we learned how two dumb technologies, the QR code and NFC tags, when properly applied, can be very useful and make you look very smart.

Now…for the exciting continuation…Part Three, where we learn how our nemesis Google will take over the world. Or will they? Muhahaha!


Part Three

Do you hear a lovely jingle? That is the sound of Google investing mucho grande bucks in the most highly evolved of our Internet of Things (IoT) species, the so-called Physical Web (aka “PhyWeb”) and the enabling technology that makes it work ~ the PhyWeb beacon. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, beacons are like NFC tags on steroids. Due to battery power, beacons have a much greater broadcasting range, sending information to your scanning device from many meters away instead of just centimeters like NFC tags.

Beacons (I am told) are also polite. They don’t invade your phone with intrusive notices unless you give them permission, which you do by instructing your phone to scan for nearby beacons. Then your phone will show you a bespoke list of beacons that are within range of your mobile device. Each beacon represents or controls a “thing” ~ a parking meter, a vending machine, a restaurant’s reservation system, a billboard, your hotel room HVAC system. Then, as with its evolutionary ancestors, your phone is automatically connected to that thing’s website, or better yet, is transformed into a super-duper universal remote control, allowing you to interact with and control the thing.

“Bespoke” is an important distinction, because imagine a world of beacons pushing their message onto your phone willy-nilly. It would be a madhouse. The Physical Web is the first of our four techniques that offer a technical solution for filtering things of interest in or out of the device owner’s awareness. Is French your native language? Do you prefer Thai food over Mexican? Are you a Civil War history buff? Your device knows, and with your permission, so does the PhyWeb. The PhyWeb is smart enough to adapt the information it shows you based on your preferences, screening out spammy clutter along the way, or so Google hopes. Each and every person’s encounter with a beacon could be as different as they are. Sacré bleu!

Probably the best way to understand the PhyWeb is by drawing an analogy with the Internet, which was largely useless to the average person until the World-Wide-Web (WWW) and browsers came along. Browsing the WWW made the Internet useful and interesting, and so it shall be with the PhyWeb as well. The PhyWeb will make the Internet of Things useful and interesting for the average person, and it will all be done through a browser and the Universal Mobile Interface (UMI). No messy, single-purpose apps will be required, with all their painful downloading and costs in time, money, and hassle. Thanks to beacons, interacting with the PhyWeb provides instant gratification, and oh how we love that.

Note, however, how control has shifted from the owner of the device to a system. No longer are you able to say “no” to information simply by not scanning (“Step away from the NFC, and no one gets hurt!”). With the Physical Web, mobile tourists will rely on technology to assist with that filtering, and we know how that’s likely to end up. Despite Google’s best intentions, spammy marketers and their hacking cousins could make the nightmare of Minority Report’s obnoxious trouser barker an unwelcome reality. Can we trust a system to ensure we don’t see what we don’t want to see?Is Waze’s unwelcome fried chicken ad (mentioned in Part Two) an innocent misfire, or a harbinger of an anti-utopian future where we must mute mobile ads the way do with TV, or worse, shroud our phones in copper foil to cloak them from intrusive beacons?

Trust and Proximity

The kind of bespoke service that transforms a nightmare into a dream will only happen when the entire system is so smart that it only pushes things on you that are of personal interest. In the most favorable future scenario, there will be no need for us to ever see a promotion for a product or thing we don’t already want and are expediently prepared to make useful in our lives. I, as a male (for example), should never (ever) be forced to see an advertisement for feminine hygiene products. No thanks. In that future scenario, we will benefit from the full power of a system that we trust and that makes good use of our personal information, including our real-time location. Then, and only then, will we welcome invitations to enjoy goods and services found “nearby.”

What does it mean to be “nearby?” The answer is very different depending on one’s circumstances. Nearby is different for a tourist driving at 70 mph on an interstate highway than it is for one browsing a museum exhibit. For the latter, nearby is measured in meters, and for that application, any of our prior three choices would work. For the former, “nearby” is measured not in meters, but in kilometers, and the tourist would appreciate being alerted of places and things he can drive to in 15 or 20 minutes. For that application, the tourist needs a service that will scale large, and that means geo-tagging.

More on that in my next post.