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Meet Baton, the ultimate handoff tool between Android devices

Mysterious startup Nextbit is finally out with a cloud service that "breaks down the barriers between devices." The initial deployment, however, will be limited to smartphones running on an altered version of Android called CyanogenMod.

With Baton, you can choose which device to sync with, allowing you to move to another device and carry on with the same activity. Nextbit

Secretive startup Nextbit has finally broken its silence.

The San Francisco company, founded by Google veterans Tom Moss and Mike Chan and funded by Accel Partners and Google Ventures, has been quietly toiling away in the mobile and cloud world, but on Monday finally unveiled its first product: Baton, a service that allows the seamless hand-off of apps between Android devices.

Baton, which works through deep integration of the cloud into the operating system, allows someone to download a game, play the first level, and hand it off to a nearby tablet and continue playing the following level. Or load a website on one device and have that site pop up on the other device.

This kind of seamless handover has gotten more attention recently and has been a focus of Apple's "Continuity" principle, which allows for many similar actions taken between an iPhone, iPad or Mac through iCloud. Because Apple builds both the hardware and software, it is more easily able to manage that kind of bridge. Google's Android, however, is fragmented among different device manufacturers, all tweaking the software a bit. Nextbit hopes to be the one to connect everything.

"With Baton, we want to focus on breaking down the barriers between devices," Chan said in an interview. "We've all run into this problem of transitioning between devices. It's clunky and not intuitive."

Nextbit CEO Tom Moss. Nextbit

Nextbit, which first unveiled Baton at the Recode Code/Mobile conference on Monday, has gained some notoriety because it has refused to discuss what it has been working on. The startup has amassed a lot of talent, including Scott Croyle, the former design chief for HTC.

The initial deployment will be limited because Nextbit has to work with handset manufacturers to embed its system directly into the operating system -- it can't be added via an app. But by going directly into the operating system, Nextbit avoids having to deal with individual app developers -- the company was able to test the handoff capability by using regular apps it downloaded itself.

Baton will open as a beta to devices running on CyanogenMod, an altered version of Google's Android operating system. Moss said he expects CyanogenMod and a few smartphone manufacturers to commercially launch Baton by the end of the year.

In addition to handoffs, Baton will enable full cloud back-ups, allowing you to recover all of your settings, files and documents if you need to replace your device. Moss said the next product he is working on is a way to expand the storage on the smartphone through the cloud, with the cloud shrinking and growing depending on how many files you load on the device.

"We're just scratching the surface in new types of experience," he said.

Baton is free during the beta trial and in the early days of the commercial launch, Moss said. But eventually, the company will come up with a "freemium" model in which customers have the option of paying for premium services.