An unknown iOS 7 feature that is a real game changer

Ever hear of the Multipeer Connectivity framework? No reason you should, unless you are an iOS developer and keep up with the latest and greatest evolutions in networking. But this is a game changer.

Multipeer Connectivity means your messaging data can find its way to the internet and back by pinballing off other devices using WiFi and Bluetooth to move from device to device. As long as some part of the chain is connected to the net, your message will find its way. The requirement is that all the devices in the chain support Multipeer Connectivity.

Apple’s own AirDrop uses Multipeer, and there are other apps as well.

Here’s an example. There’s an ultramarathon that takes place in California each year on a trail called Skyline-to-the-Sea. It’s a roughly 30 mile trail through giant redwood forests where there is no cell connectivity. Using FireChat or some other app that uses iOS 7’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework, race volunteers, staff and participants could extend Internet connectivity and communication in an ad hoc mesh network that extends the length of the course.

The benefit of such an ad-hoc network is how trivially easy it is to set up. Everybody just use FireChat or AirDrop or any other similar app. Boom! Connectivity for everyone.

You can imagine the uses in a disaster area where cell towers have been knocked out, or other situations where people need to communicate but where no WiFi or mobile broadband is available.

In many poor countries and areas, people might be able to afford cheap or used phones, but not wireless service fees. Wireless mesh networks can provide free Internet connectivity to entire villages, slums or towns.

Nice job explaining all this by Mike Elgan.

  • Joseph Blake

    it’s cool, but it won’t be “world changing”. It’s not going to bring reliable internet connectivity to the third world or to rural America. The problem is that every device in the chain needs the app, and every device in the chain needs to be iOS. I’m as big an iOS fanboy as anyone else, but not everyone has an iOS device. Plus, they’re not reliably always going to be in a chain linking X to Z.

    There will be lots of cool implementations of it, for events where you can guarantee a certain critical mass of devices, or for when there are unique and novel features that can be implemented. But world changing? doubtful.

    • SV650

      And, in a chain, each hop cuts transmission data volumes in half, as each device has to receive, then forward the information. A few hops, and the whole thing fails.

      Elgan has once again shown his digital illiteracy.

      • studuncan

        Yeah, maybe if everyone is streaming HD video.

        You’re not a network guy, are you?

        • SV650

          So, as the “network guy” you see no fault with Elgan’s premise?

          • studuncan

            No, just fault with your premise. It’s almost like network devices can’t receive & transmit data well.

            Think more like streaming HD youtube video to your Apple TV. iPhones can handle a lot of traffic. It will NOT double on every hop. Otherwise, every router in the world would have failed a long time ago. Will there be limits? Sure, but not in the way you seem to think.

      • I worked with CNN years back to implement Octoshape (P2P streaming) and we broke the Internet record for concurrent connected clients during Obama’s first inauguration.

        I say that not to brag but to clarify, with respect: you’re wrong. 🙂 We had 7M or something at once. When done right, P2P can easily scale better than direct connections.

        Just know you don’t always get the whole stream from one person. It isn’t 1:1 but 1:N for each user.

        • SV650

          Even in a linear string such as proposed for coverage of the Skyline to Sea trail?

          • I couldn’t tell you about that one specific example. I only know of P2P in general and from the media playback side.

            I wouldn’t expect it to be a 100% perfect situation AND you have to have others w/ the same capability – the article points this out as well – in order for it to work [ie – software installed to do it, even w/ Octoshape] so having everyone in one line w/ P2P enabled is highly unlikely.

    • studuncan

      Stop it with the false notion that it’s going to change the whole world all at once. It’s a localized solution for lack of connectivity issues. Nothing more. Hence the examples are exactly that. 1 or 2 network connections, dozens to hundreds of meshed devices that use those connections. It’s a perfect & easy local mesh network. Nobody in the article ever said anything about bringing reliable internet connectivity to the whole third world.

      • Joseph Blake

        From the original article: “In many poor countries and areas, people might be able to afford cheap or used phones, but not wireless service fees. Wireless mesh networks can provide free Internet connectivity to entire villages, slums or towns.”

        Again, I think it’s a really cool feature and I’m sure there will be some novel and very interesting implementations, but it is not quite as big a deal as the article makes it out to be.

  • Multipeer is a nice addition to iOS but this isn’t really how it works. Each connection has to be explicitly set up by each device and requires user interaction to do so by a foreground app. It’s set up for direct communication between devices for things like multiplayer games and sharing data. Not extending networks.

  • Mike

    Please excuse a non-techie, but is this the same as when I tether (i.e. ‘personal hotspot’) my iPad to my iPhone?