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For years, Apple has allowed you to share files seamlessly with friends and across your iOS and macOS devices via AirDrop. While Android used to support something similar with the NFC-based Android Beam, the feature never really saw wide adoption and was removed with the launch of Android 10 last year. But Google has been working on a much more powerful replacement that's more in line with AirDrop: Nearby Share, which only recently showed up in an Android 11 developer video. While we initially thought it would only allow you to exchange files and links with closeby friends, evidence is mounting that sharing with Google Chrome might also be an option.
XDA Developers reports that more and more commits related to Nearby Sharing are showing up in the Chromium Gerrit, like one that adds a Nearby Sharing flag (first spotted by ChromeUnboxed) and, more recently, one that reveals a new settings page in the works for the feature. Another entry points to the introduction of a new chrome://nearby address that will host the respective UI for sharing. That means that you'll be able to use Google's browser to send files between your desktop and your Android phone, no matter which OS you're using — Chrome OS, macOS, Windows, and Linux are all on board.
— Dinsan (@_dinsan) June 19, 2020
The Nearby Sharing flag (chrome://flags/#nearby-sharing) is already live in Chrome 85's Canary release, but activating it won't enable any user-facing UI for the AirDrop competitor just yet on my macOS machine. That's different for Chromebooks, as you can see in the tweet above — when you activate the flag in the Chrome OS developer channel, you'll be greeted by a Nearby Share toggle in the system settings, though it appears to be a placeholder with no functionality just yet.
With this feature set in mind, Nearby Share could really end up being a worthy AirDrop alternative. We assume that it might launch alongside or shortly after Android 11. Even though the feature is part of Play Services, it makes sense to bundle it with the platform release.
Spotted working in Canary channel
The folks at Chrome Story were able to get Nearby Share mostly working on a Pixel Slate running the latest Canary build — though they lacked an Android device with the feature to test the actual transfer process, everything up until that point worked. They even put together a short video:
In addition to the Nearby Share flag, the feature also seems to need the new Share Sheet to work. So far, we can't duplicate this on the latest Pixelbook Canary builds (specifically: Share Sheet doesn't work for us), but I would expect the changes to roll out to more devices on Canary channel soon.
- XDA Developers