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CyanogenMod Android adds universal sync and handoffs

Oct 28, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,347 views

Nextbit unveiled a cloud-based “Baton” service for CyanogenMod’s Android builds that enables sync and handoffs between devices, plus backup and restore.

Half Moon Bay, Calif. based startup Nextbit unveiled its Baton service with an private beta release at the Recode Code/Mobile conference. The cloud-based synchronization and backup software, which sinks its hooks deep within the mobile OS, will work first with CyanogenMod Inc.’s CyanogenMod, a family of customizable, open source Android mods, which have been tweaked for hundreds of smartphones and tablets.

With Baton, you’ll be able to sync and hand off data between mobile devices from different devices supported by CyanogenMod using WiFi. For example, you could have a web page and several apps open on an HTC One phone and pick up where you left off on a Samsung Galaxy Note. The mobile data is synchronized between devices and is stored in the cloud, so you can retrieve it if one device is damaged or stolen. In addition, devices can be easily rolled back to the desired restore state, says the company.

Nextbit Baton overview
(click image to enlarge)

There were few technical details available on Baton, but Nextbit’s high-profile staff, as well as its $18 million in funding by Accel Partners and Google Ventures, had been attracting attention even before the Baton announcement. CEO Tom Moss and CTO Mike Chan, who cofounded Nextbit, both hail from Google’s original Android team. Other team members come from Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, and HTC.

In August, Nextbit announced the hire of Scott Croyle as VP of Design and Product. Croyle was Senior VP of Design and User Experience at HTC, where he oversaw the development of the HTC One phone and its HTC Sense UI layer.

You can find sync solutions for Android that you can install on multiple systems, and you can hand-off videos between some devices, using various technologies. In addition, a number of vendors offer cloud backup and restore features in case a device is stolen. However, as Moss notes in a brief interview with CNET, such solutions tend to be “clunky and not intuitive.” More to the point, they usually don’t offer all-inclusive syncing, transitioning, and backing-up of all data on sync’d devices.

Apple has a head-start here, offering iCloud-based “Continuity” services from iOS 8.1 device to iOS 8.1 device, as well as with the Mac running OS X Yosemite. According to a hands-on report from Engadget, Baton differs from Apple Continuity features such as the iOS Handoff function, in that the Baton user “pushes” an app’s current state to another device as opposed to “pulling” an app from the target device.

Nextbit cites a Cisco report that projects that by 2018, the average U.S. resident will own nine connected devices. This suggests that Nextbit is aiming to sync between more than just mobile devices, perhaps extending the service to media players, smartwatches, desktop PCs, and other form-factors.

To do that, however, the company will need to gain permission from a wide variety of device manufacturers to embed their code within many more mobile and embedded distributions. Still, this is easier than getting thousands of app developers to agree on a common sync platform, and then validate that all the implementations work together. It would be even easier if Google bought the company and baked the technology into future Android releases.

CyanogenMod will provide the first commercial release of Baton, although Nextbit isn’t saying when. Meanwhile, CNET quotes Moss as saying he expects that several smartphone manufacturers will commercially launch Baton by the end of the year. According to Engadget, Baton’s restore function has already been licensed as a white label product on NTT DoCoMo devices in Japan. The story also noted that several Chinese manufacturers are interested.

Nextbit has posted a signup form to give developers a chance to join the beta testing on an invitation basis. The beta release is free, as will be the first commercial release, says CNET. However, Moss told the publication that future releases will likely turn to a “freemium” model in which customers have the option of paying for premium services.

“Whether I’m reading an article, playing a game, or buying something online, everything comes to a halt if I want to switch devices,” stated Tom Moss, Nextbit CEO. “Until now, there hasn’t been a good way to pick up a tablet at the same place you left off on your smartphone. Our mobile activities shouldn’t just be available on a per device basis. That’s why Nextbit is building a future that focuses on the experiences, not the device.”

A short Baton overview on YouTube

Further information

More information on Baton and a sign-up form for joining the invitation-only beta program may be found on the Nextbit website.

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