Bluetooth Upgrades, Gets Apple on Board

Carl Weinschenk
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On November 13, I wrote about the growing convergence of Bluetooth and NFC. That’s good news for vendors and consumers, since the two wireless techniques are complementary.

In the bigger picture, it is worthwhile to look at how Bluetooth has evolved. Indeed, since the technology is ubiquitous and to a great extent is an accepted part of the background, it is easier to assume that 2010’s Bluetooth is the same as 2013’s. It isn’t so, however.

Analyst Tim Bajarin uses a post at PCMag to describe what has changed about the Bluetooth technology and how those changes add to the technique’s already broad range of use cases. The important update is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), also known as Bluetooth Smart.

The upgrade reduces the demands that Bluetooth puts on the device’s battery and thereby increases the amount of time it can be used between recharges. Bajarin writes that the feature, which was available in Bluetooth 4.0 but has been improved in Bluetooth 4.1, can push battery life from hours to days or even weeks. It is in all of Apple’s operating systems, Windows 8.1, and will be in Android 4.3, which is slated for delivery next month.

Just as important as the technical advances is the fact that Apple is embracing BLE. The company, whose positions matter almost as much today as they did before the rise of Android and Samsung, resisted Near Field Communications (NFC). This has thrown a monkey wrench into the development of mobile wallets.

The path of short-range networking during the next several years will be heavily influenced by the evolution of mobile wallets. The site Patently Apple in June discussed a series of Apple patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The story focused on the iWallet and the use of Bluetooth instead of NFC. The paragraph below quotes Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing:

Apple also revealed a new iPhone feature under iOS 7 during their WWDC event yesterday called AirDrop. The importance of Apple's new AirDrop is that it replaces the need to use NFC: One of Apple's granted patents last week for "Simplified Wireless Data Transfers" stated: "Transferring the data may take place using a peer-to-peer connection other than via NFC." The technology which uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and likely a little Apple magic, negates the need for NFC which Phil Schiller had stated last September.

BLE, with Apple in tow, will be formidable. At MediaPost, Kamal Kaur makes the point that the technology is about more than saving battery life:

In simpler terms, BLE technology can be thought of as geofencing on a much smaller scale than what has previously been possible with traditional location-tracking technologies such as GPS and WiFi. Let’s get concrete. While a fair litany of articles have been written on the many potential applications of iBeacon technology, such as in-door retail alerts to consumers. This article explores three considerations that brands should be aware of when developing an iBeacon strategy for their business: context, content, and frequency.

Bluetooth, it seems, has been around forever. MediaPost and 1to1 media discuss how the advances in BLE will be utilized. The bottom line is that the next phase, however, will make it even more of an everyday tool than it is today.

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