The Internet of Things hasn't caught on in a major way yet, but it's bound to explode over the next decade, turning almost anything into a "smart device.” This could create too much complexity for regular people when it comes to interacting with the "smart" world around us -- especially if many IoT devices won't even interact with each other.
Right now, the popular approach to interacting with IoT devices is to have apps for everything. Smart sound systems, light bulbs, vending machines and so on all need different apps in order to work. What if no apps were required and the interaction between humans and machines was completely seamless and automatic?
This seems to be Google's vision for the "Physical Web" – a more seamless Internet of Things based on open standards, just as the real web works.
"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."
Google believes that not only will apps become too cumbersome to use for every single "smart" device around us, but having developers build native apps is overkill for the vast majority of these devices when a simple web address would suffice. Google enumerates some examples for how this would work:
- A bus stop tells you the next bus arrival
- Parking meters and vending machines all work the same way, letting you pay quickly and easily
- Any store, no matter how small, can offer an online experience when you walk in
- A ZipCar broadcasts a signup page, allowing you to immediately drive away
Google's Chrome team, the one spearheading this project, has already written some code for the Physical Web, but the whole project seems to be in a very early stage -- more like a proposal for how the Internet of Things could work than something we're going to see arrive tomorrow.
For this to get any momentum, many companies will have to get on board with the whole "open standards" idea. Apple has already started something similar (although in a less holistic way, and more purpose-built) within its own ecosystem through iBeacons, but it may not be too late to join the "Physical Web," as long as the company believes that would be in its own interest.