Google today unveiled The Physical Web, a project that will allow anyone to walk up to a smart device and use it without downloading an app. Google UX designer Scott Jenson published details on what he described as “an open web spec to “Walk up and use anything.” Jenson says “The Physical web isn’t about replacing native apps, it’s about allowing interaction for the times when native apps just aren’t practical.”

The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core super power of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device: e.g. a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car, and not have to download an app first in order to use it. The user experience of using smart devices should be much like we use links on web, just tap and use.

You might think the experience pictured above looks a lot like a native app experience, but the spec’s introduction notes that outside of that early prototype the feature would ideally be built right into the operating system. For now it’s experimenting with apps for both iOS and Android.

While Jenson and presumably others have been working on the spec at Google, it’s being published as an open standard for anyone to use.

The number of smart devices is going to explode in number, both in our homes and in public spaces. Much like the web, there is going to be a ‘long tail’ of interactivity for smart devices. But the overhead of installing an app for each one just doesn’t scale. We need a system that lets someone walk up and use a device with just a tap. The Physical Web must be an open standard that everyone can use. This can’t be a product that is locked down by a single company. Like many web specifications, this is an open source design that is being released early so everyone can experiment and comment on it.

You can read all the documentation on The Physical Web here.


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About the Author

Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s weekly Logic Pros series and makes music as one half of Toronto-based Makamachine.