Android’s new Nearby feature will alert you to apps and websites useful at your location

At Google’s I/O conference last month, the company introduced the concept of “Instant Apps” – a way of more quickly downloading apps by breaking them into small, runnable pieces that deliver you just the part of the app you need. However, it didn’t address how users would come across these apps in the first place. Today, it’s taking a step toward closing that loop with the unveiling of a new Android feature called “Nearby” which will suggest applications that can be helpful to you, given your current location.

While the company didn’t specifically say that Nearby is meant to be used with Instant Apps, it follows a natural progression. Instant Apps is still in testing, but it makes sense that it would be tied into this feature in the future.

First, a user would be alerted via a notification of a useful app, then they would download it and launch it. Why not make that download more speedy through the use of Instant App technology?

In addition, Google will also suggest mobile websites, when applicable, via Nearby. Its ability to suggest websites is thanks to earlier tests through the Physical Web project, and will require the location to use beacons that work with Nearby.

Some developers have already built “proximity-based experiences,” as Google calls them, using beacons and Nearby, including The Broad MuseumUnited AirlinesThe University of Notre DameCVS, and Airside’s Mobile Passport.


Here’s how Nearby would work in practice: if you’re near a store that offers its own application, that may be suggested to you. If you’re at a museum, you might be notified of the app that offers the audio tour. If you’re about to board a flight, your Android device may suggest you install the airline’s app for in-flight entertainment. And so on.

In addition, select Google devices including Google Cast and Android Wear watches will use a similar function to suggest the installation of their own apps when you’re near them.

The Nearby feature is somewhat like Apple’s iOS’s app suggestions, introduced back in iOS 8, that appear on your Lock Screen. They, too, are updated as you move between locations. However, in iOS’s case, you swipe up on the icon to open it, if it’s installed, or you can visit the App Store for the download, if it’s not.

With “Nearby” on Android, the suggestions are a bit more intrusive, thanks to its use of push notifications.

Fortunately, the feature is opt-in, not opt-out. That means you won’t be alerted to anything – apps or websites – unless you turn it on.

Once enabled, tapping the notification takes you to the intended experience, says Google, but if you’re not interested you can swipe it away just like any other notification.

Google notes that you’ll need to turn on Bluetooth and Location to use Nearby. The feature is rolling out to users now as part of the upcoming Google Play Services release and will work on Android 4.4 (KitKat) and above.

App discovery is a huge issue these days as the number of applications available to download have grown. Google’s app store today has over a million apps, and Apple’s has 1.5 million. Just yesterday, Apple introduced a whole host of changes to its App Store to fix the discovery problem, in fact, including a personalized Featured section that no longer suggests apps you have installed, better social sharing functions involving 3D Touch, and the debut of App Store search ads.