Google wants to KILL apps with the 'Physical Web'

It's kinda like shouty bluetooth QR codes


Google thinks apps are clunky, energy-wasting permission-hoarders that should die a fiery death. It wants everything in the world to broadcast a URL linking to information about itself.

Mountain View's plan popped up on GitHub and at Physical-web.org, where The Chocolate Factory explains its belief that one ought to be able to "Walk up and use anything".

Mountain View's plan calls for users to deploy a system - currently and somewhat ironically an Android or iOS app - that displays a list of URLs broadcast by nearby objects as a user approaches. That URL will then open in a mobile device's browser.

It's an awful lot like QR codes, albeit without the need to point cameras at pictures.

"The Physical Web extends the web we know into the physical world around us," Google wrote in documentation for the new system. "This involves creating an open ecosystem where smart devices can broadcast URLs into the area around them.

"Any nearby display such as a phone or tablet can then see these URLs and offer them up to the user. It mirrors the basic behavior we have today with a search engine"

The Physical Web

The Physical Web.

Google would apply its search engine smarts to rank the URLs if the idea takes off. The idea is to weight URLs initially against a phone's signal strength, and later with user personal preferences and search histories.

"The first would be to track which URLs are clicked as that implies value, so higher used URLs could be ranked higher. In addition, the server could track personal use so if you tend to pick the same device at work, it would be sure to rank the device higher as well."

The company claimed security could be afforded through the use of URL obfuscation or log in requirements, tokens that rotated addresses, or IP address restrictions. Spam too could be fought initially through traditional search engine mechanisms.

User tracking was avoided, Google said, by allowing devices to gather bluetooth URL broadcasts without connecting to beacons. This also preserved resources in the worst case scenario of a large number of people picking up signals in a local area.

"This has another advantage in that it means that a user can walk through a space and leave no trace: the broadcasting devices have no idea who is listening."

The beacon system

The beacon system

Phones would remain free of pop ups and alarms under a default setting that blocked proactive notifications.

URLs were the preferred choice, Google said, because it was decentralised and very flexible, allowing "anyone to play" without the bottleneck of a central server.

"That being said, we completely expect others to experiment with a url+ID model that goes through their server - such as safeurls.com/?id=12345. That is perfectly acceptable and to be encouraged."

"Systems like that are likely to provide much better security and vetting of sites. But that is the beauty of URLs, there can be as many of these as you'd like and the system still works seamlessly."

Google expects the app will be ported to other platforms, and also expects the code floated at Git won't be the last word on the matter. ®

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