Google’s ‘Tone’ Chrome extension lets you share URLs with nearby computers using only sound

Researchers at Google have today launched a wacky new experimental Chrome extension that lets you share the URL of your current browser tab with nearby Chrome users only using sound. It’s called ‘Tone’ and to use it, both you and receiver of the link you would like to send need to be in earshot of one another, be using Chrome with the Tone extension installed, and have computers with decent speakers and microphones…


Once those parameters are fulfilled, all you need to do is navigate to the webpage you’d like to share and click the Tone button in your browser bar. You’ll then hear a little succession of beeps and, if everything is set up properly, nearby computers will receive a Chrome notification that they can click to visit the URL in their browser. Simple as that.


You may remember that Google’s Chromecast also utilizes an audio transmission technology for connecting with and communicating to nearby devices. Whereas that device emits ultrasonic audio cues which are inaudible to the human ear, the Google Research team behind Tone found that laptop microphone’s are typically optimized for detecting human voice and silencing background noise, and so ultrasonic sounds didn’t work very well. They also tried to optimize for efficient audio transmission but found that it “sounded terrible.” Instead the team landed on “dual-tone multi-frequency signaling,” similar to what telephone systems use, launching in the product today, which they say improved reliability considerably.


Due to situational circumstances outside of Google’s control, like loud background noise and/or low-quality microphones built into many computers, the team admits Tone won’t always work. “Not every nearby machine will always receive every broadcast, just like not everyone will always hear every word someone says,” Google’s Alex Kauffmann and Boris Smus said in today’s announcement. “But resending is painless and debugging generally just requires raising the volume.”


It may not be an extension with a daily use-case, but it sure does seem like it could come in handy when you need it. It’s available in the Chrome Web Store right now.

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