What is Android Beam?

By: Nathan Chandler

Android Beam lets you teleport just about anything from one phone to another. But first you need a device with NFC capabilities.
Android Beam lets you teleport just about anything from one phone to another. But first you need a device with NFC capabilities.
Courtesy Google

Minus the slashing and sawing, smartphones are the Swiss-Army knives of connectivity. Thanks to their WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, as well as a variety of ports and cables, you can zip files around all over to your heart's content. But setting up connections between two smartphones can be a Vulcan-like pain in the neck. If only there were a way to just "beam" data from one phone to another.

Scotty might not be able to solve that problem, but Google has by adding Beam to its Android OS (operating system). Beam is a capability built into Android-based smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. It first appeared in the Ice Cream Sandwich version of the OS that debuted in October 2011.


According to Google representatives, you can sum up Beam as this: it's a feature that enables just about any type of proximity-based interaction.

Yes, that kind of corporate-speak is too vague for us, too. Here's another way of thinking about Beam. Just touch your smartphone to another smartphone or tablet to transfer files, Web site links, YouTube videos, links to apps, maps and directions -- or just about anything else you can think of. Because Google's Android OS (operating system) is found on about half of smartphones sold these days, Beam is already spreading throughout the land [source: Mobiletor].

But here's the catch. In order to engage Beam, you need a phone with near field communication (NFC) capabilities.

Bewildered by Beam? Click onward and you'll see how Beam could add to your smartphone's already formidable digital toolbox.


Scotty Would Like This Beam

Want to share a YouTube video? Just press Touch to Beam and then your friend's phone picks up the same video. It even begins playing the clip right from the spot where you left off.
Want to share a YouTube video? Just press Touch to Beam and then your friend's phone picks up the same video. It even begins playing the clip right from the spot where you left off.
Courtesy Google

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.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Android. "Discover Android."(Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.android.com/about/
  • Balaban, Dan. "Google Unveils Galaxy Nexus Featuring NFC Based Android Beam." NFCTimes.com. Oct. 19, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.nfctimes.com/news/google-unveils-galaxy-nexus-featuring-nfc-based-android-beam
  • Brown, Bob. "Motorola Xoom Tablet Owners to get Taste of Android Ice Cream Sandwich." Networkworld.com. Jan. 18, 2012. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.networkworld.com/news/2012/011812-motorola-xoom-tablet-android-255016.html?hpg1=bn
  • Chuenprasaeng, Paisal. "Sleek and Smart with Ice Cream Attitude." The Nation. Jan. 7, 2012. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.nationmultimedia.com/life/Sleek-and-smart-with-ice-cream-attitude-30173262.html
  • Clark, Sarah. "Android Ice Cream Sandwich Adds NFC P2P and Biometric Security." NFCWorld.com. Oct. 19, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.nfcworld.com/2011/10/19/310778/android-ice-cream-sandwich-adds-nfc-p2p-and-biometric-security/
  • Dolcourt, Jessica. "Android Beam in Action: Ice Cream Sandwich's Flashy NFC Feature." CNET. Dec. 1, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19736_7-57335270-251/android-beam-in-action-ice-cream-sandwichs-flashy-nfc-feature/
  • Melanson, Donald. "Google Announces NFC Based Android Beam for Sharing Between Phones." Engadget. Oct. 18, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/18/google-announces-nfc-based-android-beam-for-sharing-between-phon/
  • Rodriguez, Armando. "A User's Guide to Android Ice Cream Sandwich." PCWorld. Dec. 25, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.pcworld.com/article/246919/a_users_guide_to_android_ice_cream_sandwich.html
  • Stevens, Tim. "Android Beam Takes us to the Future of Close Proximity Data Exchange." Engadget. Oct. 19, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/19/android-beam-takes-us-to-the-future-of-close-proximity-data-exch/
  • Van Camp, Jeffery. "Nintendo Gets with the Times, Announces Nintendo Network, DLC, and NFC for Wii U." Digital Trends. Jan. 27, 2012. (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/nintendo-gets-with-the-times-announces-nintendo-network-and-nfc-for-wii-u/