Google this week announced general availability of a new peer-to-peer networking Application Programming Interface (API) that enables Android mobile applications to communicate with nearby devices even when they are offline.
The Nearby Connections API enables what Google describes as low latency, high-bandwidth fully encrypted P2P data transfers between Android devices that are in close proximity with each other.
It allows Android apps to detect and connect to nearby devices to exchange data with them regardless of whether the devices are connected to the network or not. The API works on devices running Google Play services version 11.0 and up.
There are multiple use cases for the technology, according to Google. In a work setting for instance, project team members can share ideas with nearby participants on a common virtual whiteboard.
Similarly, the API allows Android device users to share pictures, files, videos and other types of data with other devices without the need for network connectivity. In a gaming environment, an individual could use an Android smartphone or tablet as a game controller for playing games on an Android TV.
In the longer term, the Nearby Connections API could enable other use cases as well. For instance, an Android smartphone user walking into a hotel room could have the device automatically connect with the room’s smart thermostat and set the temperature to the user’s desired setting. Or the device could connect with the TV and automatically serve up the user’s watch list without prompting.
“The common thread among all these scenarios is being able to detect proximity to—and being able to communicate with—people, places, and things “near” you,” Google product manager Ritesh Nayak announced on the Android Developers blog this week.
Nearby Connections uses WiFi, Classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE to discover, connect to and communicate with nearby devices. “It abstracts away the inherent complexity of these radios by leveraging the strengths of each, while circumventing their respective weaknesses,” Nayak claimed. Nearby Connections switches between the three protocols as needed to ensure that connection bandwidths are optimal when devices communicate with each other.
Nearby Connections supports two types of connection topologies, Nayak said. One is a ‘Star’ topology where a central device communicates with other devices—such as a teacher’s tablet in a classroom setting. The other is a ‘Cluster’ topology that supports the creation of ad-hoc groups of devices, as might be needed when doing real-time collaboration.
Google worked with several partners in developing the API. One of them is The Weather Channel, which is currently working to see how it can use Nearby Connections to spread warnings during weather related emergencies, Nayak noted.
Another example is Indian video-streaming platform Hotstar, which is using Nearby Connections technology to enable media sharing in airplanes, public transportation and other areas where there is often little to no Internet connectivity.
Android TV too is currently working on a remote control application that uses Nearby Connections to make initial device setup easier for users.