Google’s Unfinished AirDrop Clone Is Already Hiding on Your Phone

Sharing files on Android could get much easier in the near future. Google is working on a local sharing system similar to Apple’s popular AirDrop feature, and XDA managed to get it working for a quick demo. The core of Google’s “Nearby Sharing” is already live in Google Play Services, but it hasn’t been officially announced. 

The use case for Nearby Sharing appears similar to AirDrop; you have a file on your phone, and you want to get it on someone else’s phone without any tedious uploading and re-downloading. Nearby Sharing comes with a new settings menu where you can connect it to an account, set your device name, and determine if you want to be visible to some or all of your contacts. 

To share with this service, you’ll just select it from the sharing panel. Your phone looks for nearby devices with the service enabled, allowing you to select a target and start the transfer. As with AirDrop, the recipient has the option to block or accept transfer requests as they come in. 

Nearby Sharing requires Bluetooth and location services to make sure it only connects to devices that are physically close. The UI actually says devices should be no more than 1-foot apart, but that doesn’t seem like enough range. This is still a pre-release feature, so that distance requirement could change. While Bluetooth is necessary for linking devices, that’s the transfer mechanism. Bluetooth would be painfully slow, so Nearby Sharing uses Wi-Fi Direct to beam files to the other device. 

Android technically had a nearby sharing solution prior to Android 10. Starting in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google Beam allowed devices to transfer files using NFC and Bluetooth. Google removed Beam in Android 10 because it was barely useful in 2012 and was woefully inadequate today. Nearby Sharing should be much more capable as it’s basically a clone of AirDrop, which had proven very popular among iPhone users. 

This feature won’t work on any devices in the wild yet — XDA had to poke around in the Play Services package to enable it. We don’t know when Google will make Nearby Sharing official, but it looks close to done in its current (hidden) state. If we don’t hear anything soon, Google might be planning to hold the announcement for the Google I/O event in May.

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