To pave the way for multi-device connectivity, Google is trying to make it easier for developers to create Android apps that connect across various devices.
First, Google explains launching a new cross-device software development kit (SDK). It contains the tools developers need to make their apps play nice across Android devices and, eventually, non-Android phones, tablets, TVs, cars, and more.
The SDK is supposed to let developers do three key things with their apps:
- Discover nearby devices.
- Establish secure connections between devices.
- Host an app’s experience across multiple devices.
According to Google, its cross-device SDK uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ultra-wideband to deliver multi-device connectivity.
Google describes various use cases for its cross-device SDK on its documentation page, and it seems like it could come in convenient in many scenarios. For example, it could let multiple users on separate devices choose items from a menu when creating a group food order, saving you from passing your phone around the room.
It could also let you pick up where you left off in an article when swapping from your phone to a tablet or even allow the passengers in a car to share a specific map location with the vehicle’s navigation system.
It almost sounds like an expansion of Nearby Share, which enables users on Android to transfer files to devices that use Chrome OS and other Androids. Esper’s Mishaal Rahman spotted an upcoming Nearby Share update that could let you quickly share files across the devices you’re signed into Google. During a CES 2022 keynote, Google said it would bring Nearby Share to Windows devices later this year.
The cross-device toolkit is currently available in a developer preview and only works with Android phones and tablets for now. Google eventually wants to extend support to “other Android surfaces and non-Android OSs,” including iOS and Windows, but there’s no mention of when this will happen.
Since the capability is in its early days, we probably can’t expect to see apps bridging the connectivity between iOS and Android devices anytime soon. But it’ll be intriguing to see how developers implement the new capability to start and if it’ll make using certain apps more convenient.
So rather than just seeking to understand the internet, Google has to remember to understand its users better than ever. Does it support that Google has a gigantic store of first-party data accumulated over the last few decades on billions of people globally? Of course, it does! But even that isn’t enough to earn Google where it’s going.
Google seems to be proceeding to try and make users comfortable with its existence: it’s moving more AI to devices themselves instead of processing and keeping everything in the cloud. It’s moving toward new systems of data collection that don’t so clearly identify an individual, and it’s delivering users more ways to control their privacy and security settings.
But the ambient-computer life needs a privacy tradeoff, and Google is desperate to make it good sufficiently that it’s worth it. That’s a high bar and bringing higher all the time.
This whole procedure is full of high bars for Google. For example, suppose it wants to build an ambient computer that can be all things to everyone. In that case, it will need to create a sweeping ecosystem of hugely famous devices that all drive compatible software and services while seamlessly blending with a robust global ecosystem of other gadgets, including those made by its direct competitors. And that’s to construct the interface.
Google maintains to turn the Assistant into something genuinely lovely to interact with all day and make its services flex to each need and workflow of users across the globe. But, of course, nothing about that will be comfortable.
Google has to support all those partners happy and discern like they’re on a level playing field with the Pixel team. And it simply can’t control its ecosystem as Apple can. It is forever fretting about backward compatibility and how fortes will work on all sizes, prices, and power devices. It has to engender support to make significant changes, whereas Apple brute-forces the future.
Another way of telling the only way Google can get to its ambient computing dreams is to make sure Google is everywhere. Like, everywhere. Google invests in products in seemingly every square inch of life, from TV to the thermostat to the car to the wrist to the ears. The ambient-computing fortune may be one computer to rule them all, but it needs near-infinite user interfaces.
The second step to creating ambient computing work is making it easy to use. Google is relentlessly trying to carve away every friction in accessing its services, particularly the Assistant. So, for instance, if you own a Nest Hub Max, you’ll soon be able to converse with it just by glancing into its camera, and you’ll be able to set timers or turn off the lights without giving a command at all.
The most apparent outpouring of that work is multi-search. For example, using the Google app, you can take a photo of a dress — by Google’s standards, it’s always a dress — and then type “green” to search for that dress in green. That’s the kind of thing you couldn’t do in a text box.