Digital 2 Physical Proximity – the Hottest Bridge on the Block
Smartphones enable us to reach almost everyone on the globe at any time. Wouldn’t it be great to have the same superpower to connect with people nearby? Proximity technologies are just about to bridge our digital and physical worlds and add a hyper-local dimension to our lives. Sounds like an exciting change, doesn’t it?
Although proximity sounds very techy, humanity has already depended on it thousands of years ago, right at the very beginning of our civilization. Recall how in ancient times a ship could have only been boarded if someone personally recognized you? Or that the best way to advertise goods on a street market was shouting out loud to the customers passing by. No technology, no paper, just sight, and voice – being in a physical range was actually the only way of interacting, communicating, marketing and securing.
Tables quickly started turning with the rise of the Internet. But even though we can finally speak to people overseas and purchase goods from miles away, finding the digital “address” of someone standing right in front of us remained unsolved. Funny enough, we still depend on exchanging some kind of address physically so that we could interact digitally. Think about it: If we can shake hands physically with anyone who’s close by, why can’t our smartphones do the same, while comfortably sitting in our pockets?
Here is the thing, such a “handshake” could be seamlessly facilitated by proximity technologies already today and set the grounds for deep personalization, immediacy, and context. Proximity will serve consumers with invaluable content tailored to each and every user and deliver experiences which would continuously enhance one’s physical reality.
Technologies like GPS, NFC, beacons and peer-to-peer (p2p) proximity are already signaling an upcoming trend in our enhanced hyper-local environment. Together with smartphones and carry-on wearables, people will be able to interact with each other and their surroundings continuously and on the go.
Imagine boarding a plane without the need to present a ticket. The system would automatically know who you are and you’d be welcomed aboard with a personalized greeting. On your smartphone you’d be guided with updates about upcoming flight delays or nearby store deals, you would get notified which of the passengers is heading to the same conference and could immediately connect and introduce each other.
You (or to be precise – your smartphone) could interact with other people hyper-locally – get to know what the nearby passenger is listening to on Spotify, split a rideshare bill without the need to exchange contact information or get notified when someone passing by sells exactly the bike, you’d like to buy.
Seamless actions like nearby payments, smart check-ins or date matches while crossing each other’s paths will happen on the go. Everything will be time and context relevant.
Every moment in our physical life will be bridged to digital creating an inseparable reality – neither digital nor physical but rather – “phygital”.
In order to fully embrace proximity, we still need to overcome some barriers. Current proximity technologies are not perfect. They present challenges to customers (both battery usage and increased privacy concerns) and a complicated adoption process for developers.
Beacons, for example, are a physical hardware and require significant deployment and maintenance time. Time equals money, so at scale, beacons get too expensive to deploy. GPS, on the other hand, accesses absolute location information and requires a constant and uninterrupted view of the satellite. However, proximity is not concerned with the latitude and longitude of a user, it’ only reacts when someone is right here, right now.
For the ‘phygital’ vision to become a reality, proximity technologies need to be further developed to the state of “near-flawlessness”. They must be available on all devices, lower or upper end, software or hardware solutions. All mobile developers, beginners, and experts should be able to implement it easily so they could focus on their products and not waste precious engineering time. And most importantly, proximity technologies must have a high level of privacy. Users must be able to opt-in/out or reset their identities universally without being vendor dependent.
Technological change is not enough though. Society, as well as the industry, has to embrace the trend. Companies have to understand that user experience is a top priority and create relevant experiences which would bring immediate value to consumers at the right time and place. After all, with almost every person on the planet owning a smartphone or even an extra device like a smartwatch, it won’t take long until the trend is picked up. People are keen on adopting solutions that bring real value and make their lives easier.
I am eager to see how the future will look like and how our environment will really react to us and vice versa. Of course, this begs many questions: who is here to serve who? Is technology really going to benefit us or are we going to serve the tech world? Maybe it’s going to be a mutual partnership? We’ll see soon enough.
One thing is clear though: with the help of proximity technologies, we will transform our lives to a new ‘phygital’ dimension. Shopping, traveling, hiring, dating, advertising – everything will be enhanced. Our online personalities will be bridged to the physical world turning our interactions into a hyper-local reality – digital mirroring physical.