The long-awaited Nearby is on the horizon, and it will be launching with Play Services 7.8. The APK is in the midst of its rollout right now. It contains a few elements of Nearby, and surely plenty of bug fixes and tweaks, but there are also plenty of interesting pieces hidden inside, as well. After a quick long examination, we've got the interesting bits and pieces ready for viewing, along with some theories about what it all means. It's time for a teardown!
Nearby is finally real – almost. We're still waiting for Google to release an SDK and flip the switch to fully enable Nearby on our devices, but at least it has been officially unveiled, so there's no need to talk about it as a rumor anymore. While we're waiting for Google to finish rolling out Play services 7.8 and turn on Nearby, there are still a few unknowns floating around. What better place to examine those than a teardown?
For now, the biggest question is probably about the inaccessible prompts and screens in Google Settings. Even though these are obviously nothing more than rough configuration interfaces, we can glean a couple of contextual details from the strings that will be shown to the user.
Naturally, Nearby will give users a basic overview of what Nearby is and that it uses sensors on your phone or tablet to detect other devices in relatively close proximity. This can include audio in the ultrasonic range, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. For the most part, this covers the basics we've known about for quite some time. There's no mention of GPS or the broader umbrella term: Location Services.
As one might expect, this is a strong indicator that Nearby isn't a passive experience that constantly monitors for two people coming within range of each other, but an active experience designed for people that already know they're close. The strings describe a streamlined experience of connecting and transferring data with the use of multiple sensors, which sounds like it will be much more intuitive than trying to set up a Wi-Fi connection with somebody for fast data transfers, or relying on the more accessible, but painfully slow Bluetooth protocol.
<string name="nearby_overall_disabled_settings_text">"When Nearby is turned on, Google will use your device's sensors to connect with other devices across short distances. <a href=%1$s>Learn more</a>"</string>
<string name="opt_in_summary_previously_on">"Nearby will be turned on. Google will use your device's sensors to connect with other devices across short distances."</string>
<string name="opt_in_audio_content">Send and receive inaudible pairing codes</string>
<string name="opt_in_audio_item_1">Devices play a short near-ultrasonic code. Your microphone is used to detect this code.</string>
<string name="opt_in_audio_item_2">"If a code is found, it's sent to Google servers to connect the devices. No audio is sent to Google servers."</string>
<string name="opt_in_audio_item_3">Some people may be able to hear sounds in the near-ultrasonic range.</string>
<string name="opt_in_bt_wifi_title">Bluetooth & Wi-Fi</string>
<string name="opt_in_bt_wifi_content">Turn on for discovery and data transfer when needed</string>
<string name="opt_in_dialog_title">Allow %1$s to connect with other Nearby devices?</string>
<string name="opt_in_bt_wifi_item_1">Discover devices and nearby places using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.</string>
<string name="opt_in_bt_wifi_item_2">Temporarily broadcast a pairing code using the Hotspot SSID and Bluetooth or Wi-Fi device name. If available, Bluetooth low energy is also used.</string>
<string name="opt_in_bt_wifi_item_3">Establish a temporary connection to transfer data between devices.</string>
<string name="opt_in_bt_wifi_item_4">Exchange pairing codes, compare Wi-Fi networks, and transfer data using Google servers.</string>
Nearby isn't the only feature with a focus on the real world and a history of repeat appearances in our teardowns, Location-related features are a big part of Play services. Google+ currently offers a serviceable implementation of Location Sharing, but it's buried in a profoundly undiscoverable location and wrapped in an aberration of terribly disorganized design. We've seen Location Sharing turn up in previous teardowns, but from the look of things, Google is almost ready to split the functionality from G+ and move it into Play services, sort of like what we saw with photo backup earlier this year.
In some ways, the new Location Sharing function will be similar to the one offered by Google+, particularly in that it might still be limited to selecting users from your circles. As previous teardowns have already demonstrated, the new version adds the ability to share your location with other people on a temporary basis with pre-set deadlines. Google+'s sharing feature has no notion of automatically removing access to your location – it lasts until you remember to remove somebody from the list.
<string name="location_sharing_google_location_sharing">Google Location Sharing</string>
<string name="location_sharing_enable_location_reporting_title">Location Reporting</string>
<string name="location_sharing_old_user_footer">You were sharing your location with people when you last turned off Location Sharing. These shares will be re-enabled. To change who you are sharing your location with at any time, go to your Location Sharing settings.</string>
<string name="location_sharing_onboarding_collapsed">Shares your real-time location with people you choose.</string>
<string name="location_sharing_enable_location_reporting_error">"We couldn't turn on Location Reporting & History for "<g id="email">%s</g>. To turn on Location Reporting & Location History go to Location settings.</string>
<string name="location_sharing_onboarding_expanded">" Location Sharing allows you to share your real-time location from your devices with people you choose (based on Location History). <br/><br/>People you share your location with can see your name, photo, and real-time location across Google products, including Google Maps and Google Now. Your shared location may include information about where you are, where you've just been, what you're doing (like driving or walking), and places you define (such as home, work, and destinations). <a href=""<g id="link">%1$s</g>">Learn more</a></string>
<string name="location_sharing_onboarding_header">Share your location with others</string>
<string name="location_sharing_extended_circles_warning">When you share with Extended Circles, people you haven’t added to your circles will be able to view your location.</string>
<string name="location_sharing_public_warning">When you share publicly, people you haven’t added to your circles will be able to view your location.</string>
<string name="location_sharing_acl_no_one">No one</string>
<string name="location_sharing_add_city_description">Add people to city location</string>
<string name="location_sharing_add_pinpoint_description">Add people to pinpoint location</string>
<string name="location_sharing_best_acl_picker_title">Pinpoint Location Visibility</string>
<string name="location_sharing_city_acl_picker_title">City Location Visibility</string>
The most distinguishing new feature in this version of Location Sharing is that it doesn't necessarily just share your location, but possibly some context about your activities and position, as well. One string specifically points out that people you share with "can see your name, photo, and real-time location across Google products, including Google Maps and Google Now." It goes on to point out that "your shared location may include information about where you are, where you've just been, what you're doing (like driving or walking), and places you define (such as home, work, and destinations)."
For people you trust, this is probably desirable. In fact, most of us probably want to convey this information when we're just about to leave work and meet up with a group. On the other hand, some of these details feel a little invasive if you're using location sharing to meet up with somebody you don't know very well. That's probably where the temporary windows of time will play their role, but it still seems like we should have some privacy options to limit details to just coordinates and nothing else.
I also have to call out one string that caught my attention: "Want to change stuff here? Talk to your parents." While it's a simple enough statement, it tells us that parents will have control over location sharing with Kid Accounts, and they'll be able to keep tabs on their children, or at least their devices. This makes sense, and it's reasonably expected, but there was no evidence until now.
<string name="location_sharing_unicorn_footer">Want to change stuff here?<br>Talk to your parents.</string>
I remember when phones started getting GPS. Back then, a lot of people didn't realize GPS signals didn't really penetrate buildings. It never really mattered that much since the big challenge was getting to an address, but we rarely needed help once we were standing at the front door. Well, that's true until we need to get around in subways, malls, stadiums, or a Las Vegas casino... You know they're built to keep people in, right?
A few companies have been working on methods to pinpoint locations inside of buildings based on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ultrasonic sound, and a few other techniques. While each has shown some promise, Apple's proprietary iBeacon protocol has taken a relatively minor lead. Google just announced Eddystone, an open source and cross-platform protocol designed to match and exceed its features.
Naturally, this is going to be incorporated into Location Services, and that's precisely what the string below is about. It will be used with a toggle that allows users to decide if Bluetooth radios can be turned on to improve location accuracy when necessary. A similar switch is available for Wi-Fi scanning.
<string name="location_settings_dialog_message_ble_scanning">Allow your device to scan for Bluetooth devices when Bluetooth is off</string>
Considering Bluetooth, specifically Bluetooth Low-Energy, is not a huge battery consumer, it's pretty obvious people will want to leave this enabled. However, the toggle is probably necessary in the event a bug causes problems with Bluetooth on a device and it needs to be switched off and back on.
The Smart Lock capabilities in Lollipop are pretty awesome. After all, why would anybody want to enter a password or pattern every single time the screen comes on? There are a couple of great neat improvements coming to Trusted Places and On-Body Detection.
Trusted Places Gets Discovered
A lot of people (obviously not our readers) don't even realize Smart Lock is a thing. Some people will discover it when Play services asks if a certain device can be trusted after a connection – usually an Android Wear watch or Bluetooth headset. But that's still only going to get a small percentage of people to realize there are different types of Smart Lock options. To that end, Play services is going to ramp up the discoverability of Trusted Places by asking users if they want to trust a location where their phone or tablet is frequently unlocked.
<string name="auth_trust_agent_place_unlock_notification">You unlock your device frequently at your current location. Add as trusted place?</string>
This will definitely boost the number of people making use of Trusted Places, and might get them to dive into some of the other Smart Lock features. Just be careful not to accidentally set your favorite nightclub or bar to a trusted location after taking your 9th selfie of the night. That's supposed to be the type of place where you want your phone to stay locked.
On-Body Detection Reads Your Gait
Back when On-Body Detection was first announced, there was some criticism that this feature wasn't that useful if it couldn't tell the difference between a phone's owner and a stranger that happened to pick it up at the right time. It looks like somebody at Google took that as a challenge and responded with gait detection.
The message below states that Play services will record accelerometer data about walking patterns which can be compared to another person if they begin walking around with your phone. The wording makes it fairly obvious that accuracy isn't going to be great, but it might just be enough to lock up your phone if a thief snatches it from your pocket in a crowd.
<string name="auth_trust_agent_dialog_on_body_detection_message_with_gait">"On-body detection keeps your device unlocked when you're carrying it, but can't always distinguish between you and someone else. If someone takes your device while it's unlocked with on-body detection, they might be able to access it.
Accelerometer data about the pattern of your walk is stored on your device to help determine when you're carrying it, and is deleted when on-body detection is turned off."</string>
So, ummm... Wouldn't this actually work against people that hand over their phone so a friend can make a call? I mean, if you expect on-body detection to prevent the phone from re-locking, and they walk away to make the call in private and the screen turns off in the meantime, wouldn't this possibly screw them up?
Android Auto: Car Exclusion
A day will come when Android Auto is going to be in a lot of cars. Stop laughing, it'll happen! Ok, fine, smirk all you like, but the dominos are already falling. I think we're only a year or two away from new car buyers making decisions partially based on availability of Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay. (I'm not saying it will drive sales, just that it will become a factor in many decisions.) Hey, I'm about to check out a Sonata for exactly this reason, so it's working on at least a few of us.
As I was saying, one day you'll find yourself hopping into somebody's car and plugging in your phone to charge up a little during the ride. If you've never paired your phone with that vehicle, you'll be prompted to at this point. That's fine once, but what if you're a passenger in a regular carpool or go out every Saturday night with a group of friends? I guess this could get annoying, right? Google recognizes this #firstworldproblem and will ask users if they would rather their current phone never use Auto when connected to a particular car.
<string name="car_setup_never_ask">NEVER ASK</string>
<string name="car_setup_never_ask_dialog_message">"Don't ask to use Android Auto when this phone is plugged into this car. This can be changed in Android Auto app on your phone."</string>
<string name="car_setup_never_ask_dialog_title">Never ask about this car</string>
Ok, so this is a non-issue, but if you're following the progression of Android Auto, you might be interested to know about the little things that are changing over time.
Nearby is a big new feature of this release, but we'll have to wait for a few more apps to integrate it before the full breadth of its capabilities can be seen. Hopefully the new version of Location Sharing will make an appearance soon, but I have a feeling it will be held back until later this year. Most of the other changes we can see are refinements on existing features, largely polishing some of the rough edges or weak points. It's surprising some of these features didn't go live with this release, but maybe some of them are being held back for a more timely launch.