Google is working on a wireless local file sharing function for Android based on Apple’s Airdrop. While it’s still not out, XDA’s got Mishaal Rahman an early version of which runs on some devices since it is currently dormant in versions of Google Play Services that are in the wild.
It works roughly as you would expect a Google version of Airdrop to work. The first user taps on the Android sharing menu and selects the new option “Share nearby”. Other users within earshot of the feature receive a notification pop-up notifying them that a file is waiting to be received, and then both the sender and recipient confirm that they want to start the transfer. The setup is done via Bluetooth, and then the heavy lifting of the data transfer takes place via Wi-Fi.
There is some confusion as to what this feature is actually called. The XDA version of Google Play Services calls the feature “Nearby Sharing,” but other builds call it “Fast sharing“Whatever it says to be tied to Play Services means that it should work on almost all Android versions, since Play Services is not dependent on the operating system version and is distributed by Google through the Play Store.
Previously, Android had a local sharing feature called “Android Beam”, but it did has been removed in Android 10. While the new nearby sharing feature uses Bluetooth to start transmission over Wi-Fi, Android Beam used NFC to start transmission over Bluetooth, which was impractical for several reasons. First, with NFC, you had to touch two phones in a row, and then you had to tap both displays quickly, with a window of just a few seconds. The required phone positioning and the time-sensitive window for tapping the display made pulling it out rather cumbersome, especially for a single person trying to transfer something from one device to another. The other problem was that Bluetooth was used, which is very slow. It was fine for URLs, but images or other user-generated content took ages.
This new nearby sharing feature sounds a lot more convenient. Instead of physically touching the two devices, they can be within a foot of each other. Unlike Android Beam, it’s easy to transfer a file between two devices sitting on a table. Because the share nearby uses Wi-Fi Direct, it’s much faster than Bluetooth. Rahman moved a 3.5 GB IMG file through the service and says it took a little over two minutes. The user interface of nearby pop-up windows and notifications from Sharing appears to be much more relaxed and reliable than Android Beam, which required approval while The devices touched physically. It was often difficult to keep two devices in the air and tap both screens without losing the NFC connection or (wheeze) drop a phone.
Apple’s Airdrop has been around for eight years, and Google has long resisted adding a similar feature to Android, presumably because it would undercut the company’s cloud services. Do you need to share a photo? Put it on Google Photos or (previously) Google+. Do you need to share a video? Youtube. Do you need to share anything else? Send it to Google Drive. Google’s push into developing countries has made this Internet-First philosophy untenable, as not all countries have the fast, reliable, and ubiquitous infrastructure that cloud services need. Google’s first main product with local approval was Android Go, a low-end version of Android for the cheapest smartphones. The included file manager “Files Go” (which is now available) available free of charge in the Play Store) introduced local Wi-Fi sharing as its main function and works almost identically with this nearby sharing function. Local services are now provided as the basic function for every app via Play Services.
Such a function was in great demand from Android manufacturers. In China Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo worked together to develop their own local wireless sharing feature they need, given that Google Play Services and the rest of the Google Play ecosystem are not spreading in China. Samsung is also working on a similar feature called “Quick Share” expected to debut in the Galaxy S20. However, as usual, Google’s strength is that it controls the entire Android ecosystem. A comprehensive cross-brand rollout via Google Play Services would be far more useful than sharing Galaxy S20 to Galaxy S20. It would also be great if nearby sharing were integrated into desktop and laptop computers through Chrome and Chrome OS.
Google’s Nearby Sharing has been under development for some time and is emerging for the first time June 2019. Google will soon have two major release windows: the release of the Android R 11 betas, which is due to start on Google I / O in March or May. Maybe we’ll see a release then?