Estimote Beacons are the coolest connectivity kids on the block. Powered by Bluetooth LE, these brightly colored, nubby plastic radios tap a protocol backed by Apple (iBeacon) to target stylish, retail-oriented companies and customers.
Estimote even has a cool motto: "An operating system for the physical world."
After a little research I discovered that "beacons" are actually a category. You can get them from more vendors than just Estimote. "iBeacon" is an Apple protocol based on the same Bluetooth LE protocol that the other Beacons use.
Google has also gotten into the game with a simpler, stripped-down URL-based proximity project: Eddystone.
Fortunately, Estimote's Beacons can work with both protocols. I ordered a 3 pack for $59.
Both technologies, iBeacon and Eddystone, have gone through ambitious future-tech hype phases: with big pronouncements and lofty claims.
Google, for example, spent a few years around 2014/2015 promoting the idea of "The Physical Web," which allowed you to "Walk up and use anything."
That era has faded a bit. All it takes is a visit to the project's GitHub page to see that development activity on the Google Physical Web project hasn't been happening for a few years.
The "physical web" concept also took a hit as many people started to feel queasy about being constantly surveilled by Facebook, Google, Amazon, and their aspiring competitors.
Share my location with Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg? I don't think so.
Things got even creepier in December, 2018 when The New York Times published a massive take-out on location tracking by the major consumer tech firms: how the information they gathered by tracking you was bought and sold. A helpful companion article advised readers how to stop your apps from tracking you.
Buzzfeed also published an investigation that uncovered popular Android apps that were spying on consumers by tracking, among other things, location. Lifehacker followed up with an article, Delete These Sketchy Android Apps That Are Tracking You Without Permission.
Interacting with strange bluetooth LE devices, downloading free apps -- not cool.
Not a good development for the location technology companies.
Yet Bluetooth LE is still out there, working.
And the Physical Web/Nearby idea is still a cool IoT-related concept: triangulating real physical-world items, and users' phones, and a host location: a store, museum, sports stadium, a Chocolate Bar, a city Innovation Center...
So I set up three Estimote Beacons, all running the Google Eddystone format, all linked to a page that allowed you to interact with the spinning chocolate grinding stone display via the Web on your phone.
And as long as I was putting a control panel together, I figured I might as well add two other means of connectivity: the veteran, reliable QR code and a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip.
Surprisingly, the QR code and the NFC chip proved more solid, more reliable, than the cool, hip Beacons.