When the iPhone 4S was released in October 2011, many tech lovers and bloggers seized on its use of Siri, an intelligent personal assistant software based on voice recognition. Siri may be first of its kind in a smartphone, but in the hype surrounding Siri, another important new addition to the iPhone was lost in the shuffle: Bluetooth 4.0. While Bluetooth technology is nothing new – Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones first hit the market in 2000 – 4.0 includes some key enhancements with major possibility. Bluetooth 4.0 maintains all the functionality of classic versions, but its recent enhancements represent a move toward what in the past was largely viewed a science fiction: a fully integrated digital life, where nearly every device – from your PC to your coffee pot – is part of your personal network.
From Bluetooth to 4.0
Classic Bluetooth technology is a wireless networking standard that transmits data via low-power radio waves. It works by sending out very weak signals over the industrial, scientific and medical devices (ISM) frequency. The weak signal allows Bluetooth to avoid interfering with them many other signals on this frequency, but it also means the technology can function on low power, which is essential to its use in mobile devices. Bluetooth has been applied to a number of applications in many mobile devices, such as cordless computer input devices, cordless headphones, and mobile phones, allowing these devices to network and interact with other devices in the immediate vicinity.
In short, Bluetooth is a short-range device-to-device radio communication network that can be connected and broken at will, thus making it possible to pair mobile devices. Bluetooth 4.0 takes this technology one step further.
Bluetooth 4.0 features the major capabilities of Bluetooth, but it also expands a device’s wireless capabilities to many other types of products. This means that devices that feature Bluetooth 4.0, the iPhone 4S being the most prominent example, can communicate with a wristwatch, medical bracelet, thermometer or scale, networking that was previously impossible because of power restraints. However, Bluetooth 4.0’s uses virtually no power, opening up a whole new realm of potential in terms of our ability to interact with small electronic devices. As such, the 4.0 version of Bluetooth is targeted toward small, battery-operated devices.
Bluetooth 4.0’s efficiency has important implications for everything from medical devices to health and fitness monitors, allowing such devices to “wake” on command, communicate directly with a computer, smartphone or other device, and save users the hassle of having to continually charge components.
Bluetooth 4.0’s pairing system between devices could also enable two devices to communicate without USB or other cables, allowing users to, for example, download images from a smartphone to a PC wirelessly.
Bluetooth may also facilitate data sharing between smartphones through “bumping” or tapping, a functionality that has long been discussed. This type of communication was standardized in near filed communications (NFC) technology, but Bluetooth may provide another option for implementing wireless digital payment systems via a mobile device that you simple tap or swipe at the cash register.
Bluetooth Smart Vs. Bluetooth Smart Ready
As you can imagine, not all Bluetooth 4.0 enabled devices will have full Bluetooth capabilities. As such, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a body of manufacturers that oversees the development of Bluetooth standards, decided to differentiate devices that used the technology with Bluetooth Smart and Smart Ready labeling.
Bluetooth Smart will be used to represent new Bluetooth-enabled peripheral devices such as watches, pedometers or heart-rate monitors. These low-power devices collect data and include one Bluetooth 4.0 radio, which will be able to communicate only with Bluetooth Smart Ready devices.
Bluetooth Smart Ready devices, on the other hand, will sit at the center of users’ interconnected digital world. These are equipped with dual-mode radios, allowing them to handle both classic and 4.0 Bluetooth technology. A smartphone, for example, would be labeled as a Smart Ready device, allowing it to receive data from a Bluetooth Smart pedometer, which collects data about the distance a user has travelled. This data can then be viewed, stored, interpreted or shared online or with other Smart Ready devices.
It is also important to note that while Bluetooth Smart Ready will be compatible with classic Bluetooth devices such as hands-free car stereo sets, Bluetooth Smart devices are only sensor devices and therefore are only be compatible with Smart Ready products.
In a hospital setting a tangle of cords and wires often connects patients to display monitors. These could be replaced by small sensors attached to the patient, which would wireless send signals to displays and monitors in the room. It may also make it possible for sensors to collect patient information and send it to doctors and nurses via the hospital’s Wi-Fi connection. So, although Bluetooth has thus far mostly be applied to relatively simple devices, it has potential applications in the realm of body computers and wearable sensors.
Pay systems are another big area where Bluetooth 4.0 may have an impact. Although near-field communications (NFC) technology has been deployed in a limited number of contactless payment systems, Bluetooth 4.0 provides some competition in this space. This would allow shoppers to wave and pay for an item using a smartphone and a point of sale fund transfer device, which is likely to appear alongside many cash registers in the near future as digital payment systems become increasingly common. However, it would also allow the retailer to interact with that shopper, perhaps by prompting them to download a branded application to the shopper’s device in exchange for a product discount.
Bluetooth 4.0 represents a shift in technology toward greater interactivity between not only typical mobile devices, but less sophisticated electronic devices as well. It’s yet another move toward increasing electronic integration with our devices everywhere we go – and get more powerful data and analysis on the spot.