How Multipeer Connectivity is Shaking Up the Future of Apps

Mutipeer Connectivity world map

Have you heard about the Multipeer Connectivity Framework? When iOS7 rolled out a new design in September, it also released this game-changing feature. But flat design got most of the buzz, so it’s flown mostly under the radar. What is the Multipeer Connectivity Framework (MCF), how does it work, and how is it going to change the app landscape?

Essentially, MCF means one iOS device is able to connect to and communicate with other nearby iOS devices at the same time.

How Multipeer Connectivity Framework Works

With the MCF, if two iOS devices are within 30 feet or less of each other, they can flexibly use Bluetooth, peer-to-peer WiFi or traditional WiFi to chat and share pictures – even without an Internet connection. When the two users go out of direct range, they can still communicate using MCF by passing through a chain of peer-to-peer users.

That’s when the real magic happens – multiple users connect and form a grid that extends into places where none exists to create a wireless mesh network. According to Cult of Mac, this daisy-chain has no size limit — so it could scale from 4 devices to 400. All it takes are devices within proximity of other devices to connect. If one user has an Internet connection, the peer-to-peer chain could spread from user to user for miles so an entire village could share a single Internet connection. MCF could bring the Internet to an entire village, avoid censorship in a war-torn territory, provide privacy for sharing amongst friends, or connect a community during a natural disaster.

Example Cases

FireChat, an open-source “off the grid” chat app launched in March, and Apple’s AirDrop, already work via MCF. Google’s also focusing on peer-to-peer connections, especially in the wearables space, and it’s likely that more apps will launch soon to take advantage of the possibilities.

“If you’re out in the woods camping and need help, you could broadcast your needs in the hope someone picks it up. At a conference or music festival, when communication lines are normally completely clogged, you could share photos, plans, and thoughts with friends around you. Similarly, during a natural disaster, you could help locate loved ones and people in need, even with non-operational cellular towers.

Those in countries limiting its users’ access to the Internet or social media could also spread their message without fear of recourse. There is no way to tie an individual to their device other than with his or her username, which you can change at will. Messages also get deleted as soon as you close the app: anonymous, and ephemeral, Daligault says. The only hitch is, in Nearby mode, you don’t have any choice over who receives your messages — they go out to anyone within range.” – Wired

In the week after launch, FireChat jumped to #1 for social networking apps in Australia, Taiwan and some Latin American countries. With millions of iPhones and iPads operating on iOS7, the potential platform is massive for developers. At Sourcebits we’re excited to explore the possibilities of MCF, and we hope Google soon adds mesh networking to the Android OS.

Developers: you can check out Apple’s full documentation here, and this tutorial on AppCoda walks you through building a demo application for testing out Multipeer Connectivity firsthand.

Harsha is Assistant Vice President for Engineering at Sourcebits and has 14 years of experience in mobile and software development. Harsha heads a business unit in Sourcebits focused on creating solutions in mobility, analytics, social & cloud space. He previously worked as a Senior Architect for the Nokia Messaging platform, which had 200 million+ active users. In 2008 he was named Global Symbian Innovator of the Year for his work. During his tenure, Harsha has launched mission-critical solutions for more than 15 Tier-1 telecom operators around the globe.

Piotr Gajos, Chief Innovation Officer

Piotr is Sourcebits Chief Innovation Officer. A 2006 Apple Design Award winner, Piotr draws much of his inspiration from film and music, and focuses on leading our Innovation Strategy Workshops, generating new ideas for Sourcebits, and consulting on projects.