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Google just released an exciting new app with wireless tech that’s better than Bluetooth

Updated Mar 22nd, 2021 8:32AM EDT
Google Wi-Fi Aware
Image: Kyodo/Newscom/The Mega Agency

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Google just released an exciting Wi-Fi application that will not really provide any useful features for the time being. However, the move is part of a bigger play, as Google is working on bringing all sorts of new wireless capabilities to phones without involving an active internet connection. The new Wi-Fi features could be used similarly to Bluetooth, with the advantage of working over much greater distances.

Called WifiNanScan, the new Google app is available to download from the Google Play store, targeting developers who want to work on Wi-Fi Aware apps.

Wi-Fi Aware is also known as Neighbor Awareness Networking (NAN), explains 9to5Google. Devices running at least Android 8.0 would be able to run Wi-Fi Aware apps that allow smartphones and other gadgets to find each other wirelessly and interact. The devices would be connected directly to each other and would not require the presence of a Wi-Fi network, or any sort of other internet or GPS connection.

Devices connected over Wi-Fi Aware would be able to “share large amounts of data” or send short messages. The technology supports “higher throughput rates across longer distances than Bluetooth connections,” according to Google.

The Wi-Fi Alliance describes various types of use cases for Wi-Fi Aware, from simple things like connecting to people nearby to play games or finding friends at a concert without using GPS. The functionality would also support more advanced uses that would benefit businesses, like securely connecting to a printer without logging onto the network or making reservations to a restaurant by walking nearby, even when the restaurant is closed. Other imagines scenarios include automating and timestamping school check-ins and roll-call or streamlining airport security procedures by employing a digital ID that can be sent to authorities wirelessly. Wi-Fi Aware can even be used to advance autonomous car tech. It could “enable autonomous and remote-controlled vehicles to instantly become aware of other devices and automatically exchange information such as GPS coordinates, altitude, direction, and owner ID.”

Until we get there, Google will have to get developers on board, and apps like the WifiNanScan app will help. The application has a much simpler functionality than the examples above. The app uses Wi-Fi to measure the distance between two phones precisely. “With this app, it is possible to obtain a distance measurement with a precision of about 1 meter with phones up to 15 meters apart,” Google explains. “Developers, OEMs and researchers can use this tool to validate distance/range measurements enabling the development of peer-to-peer ranging and data transfer, find my phone and context-aware applications based on the WiFi Aware/NAN API.”

A similar app called WifiRttScan was launched a couple of years ago for indoor positioning. The app uses Wi-Fi Round Trip Time instead of GPS for locating users.

In the future, Google might combine these Wi-Fi experiments to create new functionalities built around Wi-Fi Aware wireless connectivity standards into phones, and other smart devices.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.