You’d be hard-pressed to find people these days who haven’t at least heard of Bluetooth. As for how many of them actually use it — well, that’s a different story. Although practically all modern smartphones, tablets and computers support wireless BT connectivity between gadgets and accessories, end users often don’t bother with it unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Little wonder why — one of the biggest fails of Bluetooth technology as most people know it today is the absolutely massive battery drain. Bluetooth products simply can’t stay charged for much longer than a few hours.
Then along came energy-efficient Bluetooth 4.0. When it entered the fray last year, it didn’t quite set the industry on fire. But that could all be in the past now. Not only did it get some heavy hitters backing it up, but the latest MacBook Air just debuted rocking the new standard. Now it suddenly seems poised to take off, along with a whole new spate of game-changing product possibilities.
The Deal with Bluetooth 4.0
Bluetooth 4.0 isn’t just a new version of the typical old Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. It is different from every version of Bluetooth that came before it for one simple reason — it comes with a new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) specification.*
BLE does away with the most annoying thing about Bluetooth products — unreasonable power drain and the daily chore of multiple charge-ups. Thanks to this one change, Version 4.0 could alter the face of several industries.
Legions of new products might suddenly get new life, including mobile health and fitness accessories, lifestyle devices and other gear you may want and can actually use — all-powered by a long-life Bluetooth protocol.
The usage example often cited is the Nike+ system, and how its shoe sensor wirelessly transmits runner’s data to an iOS device, for tracking and monitoring purposes. Though it doesn’t actually use Bluetooth 4.0, it does conceptually offer a glimpse of the functionality we can expect from it. And the next-wave of products could even blow this out of the water — especially if its new supporters have anything to say about it.
Apple Backs BT 4.0 — Evidence and Rumors
A couple of months ago, Apple Inc. and Nordic Semiconductor both joined the board of directors for Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the organization touting Bluetooth 4.0.
For its part, Nordic (along with Dayton Industrial) has already created a new production-ready heart-rate strap that supports the Bluetooth 4.0 protocol. Unlike typical setups, this one doesn’t require a special wrist monitor — simply a phone or other BT 4.0 device for it to communicate with.
Then came Apple. This month, it just released the MacBook Air and Mini, both of which come equipped with the year-old wireless protocol. (That’s right — with these, Cupertino went from Bluetooth 2.1 straight to version 4.0, skipping 3.0 altogether.) But that’s not all. Word has it that the company could be eyeing it for the next-gen iPhone.
The rumor goes that Apple pushed 4.0 into the Air and Mini so that, by the time its next smartphone debuts, there would already be compatible products in place for it. Not only that, but some pundits are even wondering if Apple might be so entranced by Bluetooth 4.0 that it would skip NFC altogether in favor of it.
In truth, there’s no hardware or software requirement forcing a choice, so a device could sport both Near Field Communication and Bluetooth 4.0. Still, there’s speculation that Apple will forego it — and the hardware requirement of a separate chip — by going with Bluetooth alone. The company could very well view these as redundant technologies, and it wouldn’t be the first time Apple bucked an industry trend to go its own way. (Ahem, Thunderbolt anyone?)
Add to the fact that no additional infrastructure is required with v4.0/BLE, and the argument gets even more compelling.
Even if you’re not an Apple fan, Bluetooth 4.0 is still worth keeping an eye on. This is no proprietary standard, so it can definitely hold big potential for the rest of the mobile industry as well.
Take the Casio G-Shock Bluetooth Watch, for example. When the world got a peek at this Bluetooth 4.0–gadget earlier this year, it turned a lot of heads in the industry. It wasn’t due to the smartphone linkage that offers network-accurate time-keeping, or the monitoring of calls, emails, texts and alarms. All that has been done before. And it wasn’t for the looks either — after all, this still looks like a Casio, not a Rolex or some slick James Bond piece.
No, the exciting thing with the G-Shock watch was that it can do all that AND run for TWO-PLUS YEARS on one of those little dime-shaped coin batteries.
It’s expected that nearly all new smartphones will be using BT 4.0 by 2012. With that much saturation in the mobile market, it’s practically a lock for more intriguing products to hit the market.
Could you imagine how many different ways something like this can be used? The possibilities are endless. If you’ve got a dream scenario for this technology, weigh in with your ideas below.
*More About BLE Specification
Bluetooth Low Energy runs at about half the peak power consumption of typical Bluetooth (and as low as one-hundredth, depending on the function). It’s mostly designed to operate optimally in devices using coin-cell batteries. It also offers a longer range (up to 200m), 128-bit AES with Counter Mode CBC-MAC and application layer user-defined security, with a 6ms latency. (“Classic” Bluetooth has up to 100ms.)
However, as promising as BLE is, it’s not perfect. It has a transfer rate as low as one-tenth of Classic Bluetooth. This is why it’s possible to toggle v4.0 between low- or high-power settings — an option not available in the last-gen version.
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