Apple's Adoption of 'Bluetooth Low Energy' Paves Way for New Possibilities

As we noted last week, Apple has adopted new Bluetooth 4.0 chips in their latest MacBook Airs and Mac Minis. Bluetooth 4.0 notably includes the Bluetooth Low Energy specification which promises a low-power and low-latency implementation that opens the door to a number of new kinds of Bluetooth-powered devices.

The best example of what will be possible comes from Apple's popular Nike+ accessory which isn't actually a Bluetooth Low Energy device. The Nike+ accessory is a sensor that sends signals from your shoe to your iOS device to track your daily runs. The information is sent from the sensor wirelessly to your iOS device where it's stored for later syncing. Nike's implementation is a proprietary one, though it is similar to Bluetooth.

Bluetooth Low Energy standardizes this sort of functionality for a broad market of devices. Like Nike's shoe sensor, the new protocol promises the ability to power accessories for more than a year on a simple button cell battery without recharging.

Since the technology is so new, there haven't been many product announcements for accessories with the technology. Casio was one of the few who has revealed a Bluetooth low-energy watch that will interface with your mobile phone.

The device can receive notifications for incoming calls, SMS and email, and can also be used to locate your phone if its within range (~5 meters). Even with the incorporation of the Bluetooth technology, the watch will run for two years on its cell battery.

Other possible uses commonly listed for Bluetooth Low Energy include:

• Find Me - electronic leash applications
• Proximity - wireless locking and unlocking, out of range alerts
• Sports / Running - stats and vitals
• Health - heart rate monitor, blood pressure, glucose monitors

EETimes suggests one interesting indoor use for these sensors given their low cost and low maintenance requirements.
One key application could be indoor location (where there is no GPS signal) whereby sensors around a large public building (such as an airport or rail station) constantly broadcast information about their location. A Bluetooth low energy equipped cell phone passing within range could then display that information to its owner. Sensors could transmit other information such as flight times and gates, location of amenities, or special offers from nearby shops.
Apple joined the Bluetooth board of directors just last month and it's likely that Bluetooth 4.0 will soon extend into their other devices beyond the MacBook Air and Mac mini. The Bluetooth site claims that virtually all new smart phones will include Bluetooth 4.0 by the end of 2012.

Related Roundups: iPod touch, iPad

Top Rated Comments

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111 months ago

With or without my permission?

Why would it need your permission?

The Airport is transmitting public data to anyone who wants to read it.

Rating: 9 Votes
111 months ago
This is what needs to happen

Apple needs to put bluetooth 4.0 in the new Nano and then manufacture some amazing wireless headphones for working out. Why they haven't done this yet is beyond me. You can wear your Nano all the time and just put on your wireless headphones (add on accessory) and take a hike. It would be way better than running with it clipped with wires to your shirt.
Rating: 5 Votes
111 months ago

One key application could be indoor location (where there is no GPS signal) whereby sensors around a large public building (such as an airport or rail station) constantly broadcast information about their location.

"Computer. Locate Lieutenant Worf."
Rating: 4 Votes
111 months ago
I'd like to see an app for iPhone coupled with small stick-on or keychain accessories that'd allow you to locate your car keys, remote controls, etc.
Rating: 3 Votes
111 months ago

I created few years ago an application that scanned bluetooth devices. If a certain BT MAC was near, it opened the door.

Problem was that it was way too slow to work in real life.

if BT4 is fast, then maybe I could make it work again.
Rating: 3 Votes
111 months ago
This is gana be in the iPhone 5.
Rating: 2 Votes
111 months ago

I've logged about 14,000 miles using the Nike+ kit ever since it was introduced about 5 years ago. And I've burned through at least a dozen of the Nike+ sensors. Never did I have one whose battery lasted a full year.

Just sayin'...

Congrats on that! I've only logged in the hundreds of miles since September 2010. I use the GPS app, not the sensor so you don't have to burn through the sensors :)
Rating: 1 Votes
111 months ago

ah alright, but they are replaceable right?

Yep, a few tiny screws and the back comes off, just like any other watch.

am i the only one who thinks of a human cell when they hear cell battery? :rolleyes:

Yep, just you! :D
Rating: 1 Votes
111 months ago
Proximity - wireless locking and unlocking

I think I would start wearing a watch if it would unlock my iPhone when nearby. I need the passcode in case someone steals my phone, but I get a little sick having to enter the code all the time.
Rating: 1 Votes
111 months ago
another proprietary standard?

Just my 2 cents... But BlueTooth 4.0 in the MBA is a bad sign for anyone hoping for an NFC-enabled iPhone 5.

After all, BT 4.0 is comparable in some ways to NFC: low power sipping (versus virtually no power consumption for NFC...), portability... But in addition to that it can stream data.

Except maybe no one else than Apple will be using it.
Rating: 1 Votes

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