Proximity-based functionality isn’t exactly new. From beacons to Apple AirDrop, most of the current implementations have been used for simply sharing or, worse, ads. It’s a bit worse on Android where its own proximity framework, Nearby Connections, hasn’t exactly been widely used anyway. With version 2.0, however, Google might be opening the proximity floodgates, or hell if you wish, by introducing offline operations as well as the capability to seamlessly switch between different connectivity hardware on the fly.
So what does Android’s Nearby Connections 2.0 bring? First is that proximity-based data passing functions completely offline. While it may use your Wi-Fi hardware, it won’t be doing so to connect to the Internet just to send data to a nearby device. Nearby Connections also uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Classic, and Bluetooth LE, depending on the context and need of connectivity. This all happens under the hood and neither developers, and especially not users, need to worry about the trivialities.
That’s well and good from a tech point of view, but what added value does it offer the user. Google sets up a few scenarios to inspire your imagination, ranging from frivolous gaming to IoT. For example, instead of relying on an active Internet connection at home to herald your arrival, your Android phone can simply turn on lights, set the temperature, or start your epic playlist the moment you step inside. You can even have addressbooks temporarily merged with authorized users when you’re near each other. Nearby Connections 2.0 can also be utilized to host offline but multiplayer games in a given vicinity.
There are also some more serious applications of the new APIs. Public utilities and weather stations can more easily send warnings and public service announcements over a temporary mesh network created by nearby devices. Teachers and students can easily send out or submit assignments and other pieces of information. You are really only limited by the size of the data you’re sending and, of course, your proximity.
Nearby Connections 2.0 is rolling out to all devices that have Google Play Services version 11 and higher and app developers can already make use of the now public APIs. Of course, the framework will need more apps to make it actually useful. And hopefully it won’t all be about pushing ads.