Google Tone

Google recently released and app for its popular Web browser, Chrome, that allows users to send files between two or more computers with the use of sound.

Using the Google Tone add-on, computers can actually speak to one another — though they do it in tones that no human can hear. Unlike in the promotional video for the new product featured on a blog post at the Google Research Blog, which covered the breaking news this week, the tones are functional but silent. However, by just clicking the megaphone icon on a browser after downloading the extension, a user can instantly send and receive URLs with other nearby computers that also have the extension installed.

Google reports that its employees have been using Tone to send design files and links between one another. The service does not appear to be limited to any specific type of file although it appears limited to sending URLs at present. This means that individuals can say, “Check out this link,” and optionally send their friends or coworkers to websites or online documents. As long as that material is accessible through a Web link, Tone should be able to get them there.

It intends to make data transfers easier than ever before. Email and FTP programs have always been around for sending files, but they can be complicated and time consuming. Tone instantly converts a link to an audio transmission with one click on the browser. Any failure of sending a link can easily be retried with just one more click.

There are some drawbacks to the use of audio as a transmission medium. Just like speaking to another person, computers that speak to one another through these low tones are subject to interference from other audio in a room and the general loudness of their transmission in the first place. If Computer B, the receiver, cannot hear Computer A, the sender, links will not make their way from one to the other. A fix is simple though: turn up the volume.

There also appears to be a security concern a user raised in the comments section of the blog post. The links are sent in “cleartext”; they are unencrypted. This means that any computer in earshot that understands how Google Tone works can easily intercept and decode the transmissions. This does not make it suitable for any environment where business associates, for instance, may want to work an a secret project or share sensitive information.

Overall, Tone appears to be just a bit of fun at this point. It is still in early development stages and will likely take on some further changes to make it more reliable and more secure.

(Image caption: Screenshot of Google Tone promotional video.)