Google Reveals ‘The Physical Web,’ A Project To Make Internet Of Things Interaction App-Less

Google’s Scott Jenson, an interaction and UX designer who left the company only to return to the Chrome team last November, has revealed a project underway at the company called The Physical Web to provide “interaction on demand” so that people can walk up and use any smart devices without the need for intervening mobile apps. This would make it possible for users to simply walk up to a bus stop and receive the time until the next arriving bus, without any additional software needed.

The project is an ambitious bet on the future of smart devices. Analysts are predicting explosions in connected devices over the next few years, with Cisco anticipating 50 billion Internet-connected gadgets in action by 2020, and Intel pegging the total at 15 billion by just next year. Google’s project, spearheaded by Jenson, would make it much easier for people to interact with the growing web of connected devices every day.

“People should be able to walk up to any smart device – a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car – and not have to download an app first,” Jenson explains on the Physical Web project page. “Everything should be just a tap away.”

Th aim of the project isn’t just to create something that can be leveraged by Google devices and software, however; it wants to create a standard that can be used by everyone and that is open, like those used for the basic building blocks of the web. A shared standard would definitely help expand the usefulness of connected devices, but Apple has already taken steps towards its own proprietary version of this kind of tech with iBeacon and with its new contextually relevant app suggestions in iOS 8.

Jenson lists some practical applications of the proposed standards on the project page, including parking meters and vending machines that offer quick and app-less payments, universal physical retail shopping experiences and a ZipCar rental system that works via the signs advertising the parking spaces themselves. As for why Chrome is spearheading this effort, the team sees this as yet another web standard, operating as it does beyond siloed native apps.

An accepted open standard is probably still years away, if we ever get one, but the idea of an Internet of Things that doesn’t require even a single centralized software hub like those provided by SmartThings and others is tempting, especially since it democratizes control over the system.