The huge and growing archipelago of devices, screens, and sensors represents an enormous opportunity for whichever companies best connect the pieces.
Today, startup Xperiel is announcing its bid to be that connector — a new platform for marketers to quickly and easily build apps that link to GPS, audio signals, digital billboards, connected kiosks, and other pieces of the growing Internet of Things.
The platform is the first product from the Sunnyvale, California-based company, launched in 2013 by engineers who helped develop the technology that became Google Wallet. Xperiel is currently in a private beta with a few brands, notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a self-serve version is planned for release by year’s end.
Along with the platform, the company is also announcing today its initial funding of $7 million from investors that include the Los Angeles Dodgers, Major League Baseball, Sun Microsystems’ co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Intuit’s Scott Cook, Stanford President John Hennessy, Yankees’ owner Gary Green, Google Board member Diane Greene, Google Senior Vice President Shona Brown, and Uber founder Garrett Camp.
Xperiel says its platform is “an orchestration layer for the Real World Web,” the area where digital and physical realities meet to create experiential marketing. CEO and co-founder Alex Hertel pointed to the Uber and Starbucks apps, and to the Pokemon Go phenomenon, as pioneering implementations of digital plus physical. Xperiel, he told me, can be used to easily create such experiential marketing at scale.
The platform contains three main components. First, there’s a graphically-based, patented cloud-based language that enables the creation of mobile applications in less than a hour, without any software development. Here’s an authoring screen for the Xperiel programming language:
The second component: the apps themselves, which live in the cloud and download their device-related elements when needed. Here’s a screen from an Xperiel-created app for the Dodgers:
Hertel said the app downloads can sometimes be as lightweight as a few kilobytes, they act as native apps, and a marketer can create one app to work on both iOS and Android devices. While there might be a slight performance hit on initial download, he said, there is none on subsequent runs, and the app is kept updated via its cloud link.
The third component: a “universal trigger fabric” that automatically connects sensors and signals to the cloud-based apps and thence to their device-based selves. This means that an individual app doesn’t need to create connections to all those inputs or outputs, but can simply link to Xperiel in the cloud. Triggers can include GPS locations, audio or visual recognition, beacons, near field communication (NFC), or other signals, and output connections can include stadium video displays, digital billboards, or screens on other devices.
The current Xperiel test at the Dodgers’ stadium is “turning our park and everything in it into a giant physical-digital ecosystem,” Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain said in a statement, “where every inch of real estate can become digitally interactive… .”
One typical use case, Hertel said, is a digital treasure hunt whose pieces are found in different physical places at the stadium. In such a location-based game, an attendee can get a digital puzzle piece by scanning a virtual loyalty card at the concession stand, scoop up other puzzle pieces at specific GPS points à la Pokemon Go, and, when the puzzle is assembled, have her name shown on a stadium video display.
This kind of digital treasure hunt for iOS and Android devices, he said, might otherwise take three to four software engineers, three to four months, and a budget of about $100,000.
But Hertel contended that a marketer with no coding experience can employ the Xperiel platform and build such an app in about 15 minutes.
The graphical language is flowchart-based, where the author draws the app’s logic. Hertel said it can program anything that can be developed in Java, adding that “a five- or six-year-old can learn this.”
“If you have an infinite budget,” he noted, “we’re not helping you.”
The “consumer-facing portion” of IoT
Looking to the future, Hertel suggested the Xperiel platform could eventually connect directly into iOS or Android operating systems, and that the apps could reside in cars, appliances, and other connected devices in addition to smartphones or tablets.
While a subscription is planned for the use of the Xperiel platform, the company’s primary monetization will be a share of the revenue it generates, such as through loyalty cards or additional sales.
Xperiel, of course, is not the only company recognizing that a world of countless connected devices, vehicles, displays, and appliances, many with their own sensors, offers a huge opportunity. Cisco, for instance, has been building its IoT platform, as have other startups like Evrythng (which is spelled like that). And IFTTT (If This Then That) has built a business around consumers’ ability to create simple “recipes” that link one device’s function to another.
But, Hertel said, while others are building different pieces, there is no single platform that allows marketers to easily build and run fully-functional apps for users, as Xperiel does.
“We’re building the consumer-facing portion of the Internet of Things,” he said.
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Author: Barry Levine