Google announced a project recently that’s had everyone at Thalmic Labs buzzing. We’ve been sharing tons of ideas in our company-wide chat for how the Myo armband will control it, and realize its potential as the ultimate controller for technology.
The project is called The Physical Web. It’s just what it sounds like: a new way to think about the internet, based on your position in physical space.
The Physical Web is a new spin on an old idea — contextual computing. It’s the concept behind the QR code and Near Field Communication (NFC): you walk up to a physical object that can interact with your device (through a code you can scan or something you can tap) and the object gives you information relevant to where you are. An overhead map of the mall you’re in, showtimes for the movie you’re looking at, specials for the restaurant you’re outside, and so on. It’s incredibly useful, but QR codes and NFC tags are tricky to use and haven’t really caught on.
The Physical Web takes this same basic idea and puts it on steroids.
The great thing about this idea is that it uses the absolute simplest vehicle to get information from an object to you: the internet. This is where Google really leads — establishing industry standards that open everything up, and make the web as egalitarian and accessible as possible.
With the Physical Web everyday objects will pump out information using standard web protocols. This means I can interact with them instantly, without having to download a new application.
Think of it like this: if I walk into a store and I want to find out what sales are on, I’ll have to download their app, fire it up, enter my store location, and then browse the bargains. It would probably spend five or six minutes of staring at my phone waiting in a crowded store.
With the Physical Web, my phone will already understand the web-connected devices around me. When I open my phone, I’ll have one app called something like “Physical Web Browser” that can talk to objects around me (like a beacon inside the store highlighting the best deals on offer). No need to download an app, give a machine my location, or sign in to anything; the store knows this information is relevant to me from context alone. Accessing it is as easy as opening a web browser.
It’s great for shoppers looking to save money, but it’s good for the stores too: they get more attention to their promotions, get rid of overstock with highly-visible bargains, and so on.
The reason we’re so jazzed by the Physical Web is because it could totally work under Myo control. The physical web means I can interact with public technology through my smartphone, and the Myo armband controls my smartphone.
If Google’s project succeeds, there could be a kiosk in every mall kept locked behind glass (expensive touch screens are notorious vandalism magnets). I’ll be able to walk up and interact with that screen using my Myo armband just because my smartphone is near it.
You’ll be able to take control of public screens with your hands, zooming in and out by spreading your fingers and swiping information away with a flick of your wrist. It will be such an intuitive, natural way to interact with technology you won’t remember how you got along before it: the hallmark of all good technologies.
Context is the key. The Physical Web is all about only giving you relevant information based on your location and what you’re doing. If the device can’t hear you, stand a little closer.
Life in the physical web.
Imagine walking past a movie theater, popping open your phone (or taking Myo-control of a connected screen) and browsing current screenings and showtimes at your own pace. With technology on your smartphone that learns your preferences, we could take it a step further; the theater could send you recommendations or suggest upcoming films if you don’t like what’s on offer.
Your favorite coffee shop could suggest different blends based on your preferences, or recommend something totally off-the-wall if you’re in the mood for something new (maybe you’ve already tried three new things that day).
The list goes on. The Physical Web will get you the information you need about the world around you. It will also let companies learn more about what people like, and improve the services they offer. That movie theater will see exactly how quickly people dismissed a certain film and how long others considered watching it. Restaurants will know which menu items get people curious and which make them hungry. The Physical Web will make the world a smarter place, better suited to our needs.
The only problem is the controller. You can’t carry a mouse and keyboard around with you. Voice control is out — everyone would be shouting at screens in public. You need something that lets you use your hands, in a tactile way, to interact with technology while you’re out in the world.
That reminds me, have you pre-ordered your Myo armband yet?