It’s no secret that Google has been hard at work on Nearby Share, a protocol that works very much like Apple’s very-handy Airdrop, seamlessly allowing wireless file exchange between devices and users alike. The usefulness of these types of services isn’t exactly in their novelty, but in their ubiquitous availability. While there are tons of services that do similar tasks as Airdrop or Google’s new Nearby Share, there are none that can claim to be on everyone’s devices out of the box.
With yesterday’s more formal announcement of the Nearby Share service going live, Google is now providing a simple way for users to share files between select Android devices now and with Chromebooks in the near future. We’ve already seen proof that this feature will eventually arrive via the Chrome browser sometime in the future, but Google’s announcement didn’t hit on this at all, choosing instead to only highlight the arrival of Nearby Share on Chromebooks when mentioning desktop availability.
To start, only some Pixel devices and Samsung devices are included in the mix with expansion to other hardware over the next few weeks. For Chromebooks, Google says it could be a few months before we expect this to work in the Stable Channel for Chrome OS. As this news rolled out, we tested the service across multiple development builds of Chrome OS and, though we can turn it on in settings, we couldn’t successfully initiate a transfer just yet.
Notable Nearby Share features
The blog post did clarify a few things I wasn’t aware of, starting off with the fact that you can share offline thanks to the service’s nifty ability to automatically choose how to transfer files: Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, WebRTC and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi are all options. Because of these protocols all being available for file transfer, you can also share files to others near you without actually having to share contact info. We did test this and verified that files can be shared between phones without any necessary contact info shared between users.
The easier route, obviously, is to leave your device open to contacts when you are ready to share things and, when this option is selected, the entire process is seamless and fast. Ultimately, if you need to share something with a person you don’t know well enough to have contact info for, you won’t actually have to change settings to initiate a transfer. Since the most open setting is visibility to all your contacts, that person would only see you available if your Nearby Share screen is open and ready to receive something. It’s a nice system that should keep the random file sharing down to a minimum when you are at a coffee shop.
The most important part is availability
I mentioned this at the top and it is probably the most important piece to the whole Nearby Share puzzle. While we’ve heard in comments and emails that there are other services that do all this in one way, shape or form, there are no 3rd-party services that will simply be available to every Android and Chrome OS user out of the box in the coming months. While those other services are capable and functional alternatives, the fact that I have to prompt a friend or family member to install them before we can share that one, quick file is the sticking point where you lose most people. If nearby file sharing is going to be something people actually use, it needs to simply be baked in and there when I need or want it.
This is where Nearby Share could be ubiquitous down the road. We know it is coming to not just Chrome OS, but other desktops as well via Chrome. This means that, in time, anything that runs desktop Chrome will have this ability. That obviously leaves out iPhones and iPads, but if Google could figure out a way to bake Nearby Share into Chrome or the Google app for iOS/iPad OS, we could have a fully cross-platform file sharing protocol in the coming months that literally anyone could use on any device. At that point, I think Nearby Share could go from a cool trick to a utility we can’t remember living without.