Beam is a lot like having a Star Trek transporter device for your phone, and it relies entirely on NFC. Like Bluetooth, near field communication is a type of wireless communications standard.
As its name implies, it works only in close proximity (about 4 inches or fewer) to another NFC device. NFC is still an emerging technology, and even by 2014, it may still only be shipped in about 20 percent of the world's cell phones [source: Juniper].
You can buy NFC phones right now, though. In the United States, the only carrier with NFC phones is Sprint, but you can bet that the list of phones will expand rapidly in the near future. In order for Beam to work, both smartphones involved in the interaction must contain NFC chips, or tags.
Once you find a friend who has an NFC phone, Beam is designed to be exceedingly easy to use. Let's say your phone is displaying directions to your favorite sushi restaurant, and your friend wants to meet you there later.
You can instantly share those directions with Beam. You just touch your phone to your friend's, and a "Touch to Beam" prompt appears on your phone. Tap the screen and your map immediately appears on the other phone. Now your pal has no excuse for getting lost or being late.
The same process works for Web sites, online videos, pictures, contacts and a whole lot more. Perhaps best of all, because Beam is part of Android's open-source development philosophy, any third-party company can dream up their own creative or crazy uses for Beam.
But at present, Beam will sit idle in a dark corner of most Android phones, primarily because so few phones actually have the NFC chips that make Beam work. As NFC technologies progress, however, you can expect dozens of Beam-powered applications that would make even an engineering whiz like Scotty proud.