Everyone has their own AirDrop alternative – Struggle of “quick sharing” techniques on Android

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Quiz Question: When did Apple release its AirDrop quick-sharing service? The feature to share files between iOS devices and Mac computers seems to have many users. It’s hard to figure that out because no one but Apple can keep track of that, but it’s damn convenient to be able to share files between Apple devices without needing a USB stick or even an Internet connection. The thing is, like many other services on Apple devices – Facetime, iMessage, Memojis – it doesn’t work on Android phones. In fact, we had long expected a solid alternative to AirDrop on Android, because Apple released it in 2011, now almost nine years ago.

This year it seems to be coming; an AirDrop alternative for Android is coming. And another one. And another one. Soon we will have a technique with the aim of connecting all those techniques together. It is not difficult to come up with the relevant XKCD strip to go with it. So it’s high time to look at the three ways to quickly share files on Android. What devices do they work on, how do they work and when will they arrive?

Quick Share on Android

It’s not like the answer to AirDrop took eight years. In fact, Google was already developing a technology when Apple announced AirDrop. It was first in Android 4.0, which came out on the Galaxy Nexus in late 2011. It quickly became available on more smartphones via upgrades and new devices in the time that followed.

The trick was this: Android Beam works via nfc to connect, after which the technique uses bluetooth to actually transfer files. The speed is limited by the fastest Bluetooth connection supported by both devices. If one phone has bluetooth 5.0 on board and the other 3.0, then the maximum speed of 3.0 will of course be the maximum.

Android Beam was hardly in use and Google took it out of Android 10 last year. There was already talk of a new alternative for it called Fast Share , but this is not in Android 10. And that leaves room for other players.

There have long been brand-specific alternatives that do things better than Android Beam. Samsung introduced S Beam on its Galaxy devices with the Galaxy S III in 2012, which works with a combination of Bluetooth and WiFi direct. Huawei has Share , a file sharing service that also combines Bluetooth and Wi-Fi directly between phones running Emui 5.0 from 2016 or between an Emui smartphone and a Huawei laptop that supports it.

The market leader is coming

Samsung is one of the parties working on an AirDrop alternative with QuickShare. XDA-Developers showed screenshots of the operation last week. It is unknown how exactly it works and how fast it will be able to go, but at least there is a possibility to share files with devices other than smartphones and tablets.

It also works with devices with Samsung’s own iot technology SmartThings. That is not direct. Users upload the files to the Samsung Cloud, which then streams it to devices. This should enable the transfer of, for example, installation files for apps to SmartThings devices without a physical connection. On the other hand, when sharing with SmartThings devices, files do end up on Samsung servers. And who knows what it uses that data for ?

If you think that you can stream movies with it, you are wrong. It’s a maximum of 1GB at a time and 2GB a day, presumably because it works via the cloud. Samsung’s QuickShare hasn’t been announced yet; that would happen at the Galaxy S20 presentation in two weeks.

The Chinese combination

It’s a strange alliance. To enable fast file sharing, Xiaomi has teamed up with Oppo and Vivo. It is not surprising that Oppo and Vivo work together. They share investors and deals with suppliers, so they are virtually sister companies. However, Xiaomi is separate from that. In addition, Xiaomi has had its own file sharing service in Miui for some time now. It was first called Mi Drop and will now be known as Mi Share.

The function is also called Share with other manufacturers, but obviously not Mi Share. At Oppo it is called Oppo Share, for example. Device discovery is done via Bluetooth, the transfer via WiFi directly. That goes with a maximum of 20MB/s, or 160Mbit/s. That’s pretty reasonable. For example, you can transfer a 4GB film in less than 3.5 minutes. Recipients must first enable the function before it works. It does not seem possible for the time being to only receive files from contacts, as is possible with other applications.

The maker of Android is stirring

Google itself is also working on a new way of sharing files. That was first called Fast Share, but now seems to be called Nearby Sharing. Scanning works with bluetooth and sending via wifi direct. Google itself has not yet claimed anything about the speed, but transferring a 3.5GB img file took just over two minutes in a test by XDA-Developers . Then you end up with 28MB/s. In addition, Google has the ability to get this feature on the radar of many people. It works via Play Services, which is a package of services that runs on almost all Android phones. In addition, it is possible for Google to port to Chromebooks.

This makes Google’s solution the most universal and therefore the most promising. On the other hand, Android Beam had been in the mobile operating system since Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 and had so few users that Google decided to discontinue it, so who knows. In addition, in their own software, brands can display their brand-specific quick share at the top to make them known to people. Google cannot do that with skins from other Android manufacturers.

A small overview

To give you an overview of what’s to come, here’s a table of data currently known about the various ways to quickly share files on Android.

Quick Share on Android Google Samsung Xiaomi/Oppo/Vivo
Name Nearby Sharing QuickShare “[brand name] Share”
Technic Wi-Fi direct/Bluetooth Unknown Wi-Fi direct/Bluetooth
Speed About 28MB/s Unknown 20MB/s
Share with whom? Any device with Play Services
(Android and maybe Chrome OS)
Samsung phones and tablets,
SmartThings devices via cloud
Smartphones Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo
Receive options From everyone or from contacts From everyone or Samsung Social users in contact list From everyone
Release Via Play Services,
timing unknown
Presumably from Galaxy S20,
then perhaps on many more devices
Starting next month via updates on existing phones

Note that only the way of Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo has been announced. The data about the techniques of Google and Samsung come from leaked apk installation files and that information is solid, but can of course change at release.

It is also interesting what Huawei will do. The Chinese manufacturer is number two in the smartphone market. He will not want to cooperate with Samsung and is not allowed to cooperate with Google because of the trade ban that is still in force. Joining the initiative of the other Chinese is then the most obvious option.

In any case, it is clear that there is movement in the quick sharing applications on Android. There is a lot to come, but yes, that is of course hidden in the Share menu of smartphones. The question remains whether a large mass of users will discover the new functions there.

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