At I/O 2017, Google announced an upcoming revamp to its Nearby API that powers the Bluetooth beacons that are increasingly found in stores to serve deals and other notifications. Version 2.0 of the Nearby Connections API is now available to provide a “fully offline, high bandwidth peer to peer device communication.”

The focus of this updated API is to provide “high bandwidth, low latency, encrypted data transfers between nearby devices in a fully-offline P2P manner.” Google lists numerous possible use cases, including:

  • Imagine walking into a hotel room and having the temperature set just right, your favorite sub-genre of progressive-math-rock playing in the background, and the TV urging you to continue binging on your saved guilty-pleasures watchlist.
  • What if your phone’s contact book could expand to merge with your spouse’s when you’re together, so you’re never again put in the excruciatingly compromising position of having to ask for your mother-in-law’s phone number
  • Now imagine a world where you can drive up to an empty driveway or private parking space in a city like New York or San Francisco, and negotiate with that space to rent it out until its owner returns.

Quite ambitious in possible use cases, Nearby Connections is leveraging WiFi, Bluetooth LE, and Classic Bluetooth. More interestingly, Google is abstracting the hard work and improving the experience by playing the strengths of each technology while “circumventing their respective weaknesses.”

this abstraction enables seamlessly upgrading the bandwidth of a connection by switching between the radios as and when it makes sense, as well as getting invisible over-the-air updates to use new radio technology as it becomes available — with no change whatsoever in the application code.

The API supports having a centralized device broadcast to numerous others (Star) and more traditional peer-to-peer, decentralized networks (Cluster).

Google has been working with several developers:

  • The Weather Channel is building on-demand mesh networks in data-deficient areas to spread urgent weather warnings.
  • Hotstar enables offline media sharing in places with spotty/no internet connectivity (like on public transportation, airplanes, etc.)
  • GameInsight is using Nearby Connections to not only find nearby players, but also to run entire games offline.
  • Android TV is building a remote control app (powered by Nearby Connections) to simplify initial setup, and to enable subsequent second screen experiences.

Version 2.0 is now available on all Android devices updated to version 11.0 of Google Play Services, with developers able to begin writing apps immediately.


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