Will Android Beam set the standard for phone to phone content sharing?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: October 19, 2011

To put it lightly, the way we use our phones, what we use them for and what we store on them has greatly changed over the years. Just three years ago, the only thing I would store on my phone was contacts in my address book and a handful of pictures taken with the camera. The extent of sharing data between two handsets was sending a MMS message with an attached picture.

But the capabilities of phones these days are far beyond what they were in 2005. I now use my phone for listening to music, playing games, taking and sharing pictures, reading and sending email and much more. With cloud storage, I also have access to a plethora of videos, pictures, documents and other files at my fingertips at any given time.

The problem, however, is that while the capabilities of smartphones has increased exponentially in a very short time, the means in which users can seamlessly share content and data has not. If you want to share a web page or even a photo with a friend sitting next to you, you might email or text the URL or photo to them. This works, obviously, but it's not exactly seamless or a streamlined process like we should be capable of in the 21st century.

There are some applications like Bump or Hoccer, which make the process a little more fun, but that requires two users to have a strong location signal, wireless connectivity and have the same application installed. If one doesn't have the necessary application, they would have to download and install it first, then proceed with sharing.

Such applications work quite well in optimal conditions, but clearly have some caveats. By using Bump, Hoccer, email or even MMS, the data you are trying to transfer has to travel much further than it should. You're trying to share a picture between two devices that are mere inches from each other. Why should you have to use part of your precious data allotment to send information a few inches?

Last night, Google and Samsung announced Ice Cream Sandwich and gave us a fairly lengthy tour. One of the halo features of the Android software update is the inclusion of Android Beam. Beam makes use of the NFC radio in any equipped Android phone to seamlessly share media and other content between two devices, with minimal user interaction. Simply tap the two phones together (back to back), the sender then has to confirm the send by tapping an on-screen prompt, and voilà! The content – be it a picture, an application or a Maps location – instantly pops up on the other phone. (Image transfers will obviously take a little more time than a simple location or link to an Android Market page and are likely done over an instantiated ad-hoc network or a back-end Bluetooth connection established via NFC.)

Google demoed some of the uses of NFC that they were experimenting with at I/O back in May. We knew Google would push Wallet as a payment option, which officially launched just a few short weeks ago. And some demos were done between two phones – establishing a connection for multiplayer gaming and light content sharing between devices. But we weren't sure of the extent of where they were taking the technology or when we would see it officially. I feel Google has knocked peer to peer (P2P) sharing via NFC out of the park, and I honestly cannot wait to get my hands on a Galaxy Nexus and start playing with Beam.

The greatest part of it all is that Android Beam is open to developers, and it's capabilities are virtually endless (within actual hardware restrictions, of course). I'm sure the makers of third-party P2P services will make use of Beam, which could eventually mean cross-platform NFC sharing, the sharing of virtually any file type and more.

There is one major problem with Beam, though: it will be quite limited for some time to come. Despite it being a totally awesome feature, it's not going to work with just any two phones. There are hardware requirements. It requires that both phones have NFC (duh). Unfortunately, NFC-enabled phones are few and far between in the States right now. Here's to hoping the NFC adoption picks up in 2012.

Tell me, readers. What do you think about Android Beam? Will it change the way smartphones interact with each other moving forward? Will other platforms adopt similar capabilities? Do you think there will be a cross-platform adoption of content transfer via NFC (like Bump)?

Image via This is my next

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