One of the big challenges for mobile devices is how to get them to work better together — so that your tablet, phone, and desktop have the same settings and data whenever you pick them up.
Nextbit is a startup that is adding these kind of integration features by deeply modifying Android. As opposed to Apple’s local network-based approach called Continuity, Nextbit’s features work through the cloud and require an internet connection.
Nextbit gave its first public demo at a Re/code mobile conference taking place south of San Francisco on Monday. Its first product for the United States is Nextbit Baton, which is a feature for select Android devices running CyanogenMod that lets users pick up what they were working on on another device. Simply long-press the multitasking button and you’ll see an option to transfer whatever you’re doing to another Android device running CyanogenMod, which is an alternative firmware distribution based on Android.
“We focus on breaking down barriers between the phone and the tablet,” Mike Chan, Nextbit co-founder, said. “What we’ve done is taken the cloud and deeply integrated it into the Android operating system without APIs or an SDK.”
In the demo I saw, it was possible to start a drawing on a phone — a OnePlus One — and then send it over to a tablet — a Nexus 7 running CyanogenMod — at the exact same place in the drawing. Every line and tweak was still there on the Nexus 7. It works for most apps, including games and browsers. The only major caveat is that the app needs to be installed on both devices.
Nextbit Baton also has data syncing and backup features as well. It enters beta today, and interested users can now snag an invite to test it out — previously, there were only a few hundred alpha testers. The plan is eventually to become an open beta, then release Nextbit Baton for every device running CyanogenMod.
Nextbit’s other product isn’t headed to the United States yet. Nextbit’s software will power a device backup and transfer service for Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo. The idea is that when you buy a new phone, Nextbit features will allow you to easily clone apps and settings from your old device. A lot of other services do something similar, but robust functionality like this could eventually lead to any phone being exactly like your phone.
San Franciso-based Nextbit has funding from Google Ventures and Accel Partners, and one of its founders, Tom Moss, has had two of his startups purchased by Google. It’s even added a few flashy hires, like former HTC design head Scott Croyle. And it’s working closely with another buzzy startup, Cyanogen, which has been rumored to have turned down a Google acquisition of its own.
“Cyanogen’s a startup, and we’re a startup,” Moss said. “They move fast, and we move fast. We’ve been working with Steve [Kondik] and his team to make sure it’s working well.”
Nextbit’s next project is still in development but is even more ambitious, and seeks to solve the on-board device storage problem that even cloud services like Dropbox and iCloud have not completely succeeded at. The plan for that product is to tightly integrate an operating system with the cloud to offload bulky data in the background, so that it appears as if your device has unlimited storage.
“Your device might have 16GB of local storage, but it will act, look, feel and work as if it had 50GB,” Chan said. “By constantly offloading data off and on your device, you never run out of space [because] you’ll have some things on the cloud and some things on the device.”