Today, Suke Jawanda, CMO of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) visited Germany to discuss with journalists the current state and future of Bluetooth and indeed, the future can be quite promising, if the Bluetooth SIG and its partners bring together the technology and marketing in time. Following this October's announced Bluetooth brand extension, the Bluetooth SIG felt it's time to explain what the new brands are about and why it was necessary to introduce them. Most of us might know and use Bluetooth from mobile phones and use it together with wireless headsets or hands-free car kits. That's the basic scenario where Bluetooth came from, even if it was always able to do way more.
However, latest with the launch of HSPA some years ago, which was faster than Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and the later broad introduction of WiFi tethering, which is now used to connect laptops and tablets to mobile phones for wireless data access, the Bluetooth standard by itself got in trouble. Sure, there were other cases, as mentioned above, where Bluetooth is still in use. On the other hand, hardware manufacturers also went propriety ways to connect peripherals wirelessly, think about wireless keyboards and mice which are not using Bluetooth anymore.
While the 2009 introduced Bluetooth 3.0 standard solved pretty much the problem of speed, Bluetooth 3.0+HS supports theoretical data transfer speeds of up to 24 Mbps (though not over the Bluetooth link itself but the Bluetooth link is used for negotiation and establishment, and the high data rate traffic is carried over a collocated 802.11 link), Bluetooth stayed in its niche of being either used for hands-free calls or wireless music, and maybe a couple of peripherals here and there.
Last years introduced Bluetooth 4.0 is aimed to change this by being radical different from its previous Bluetooth version. That's also the reason which made this autumns "Bluetooth Smart Ready" and "Bluetooth Smart" brands necessary. Bluetooth 4.0 is a combination of "classic Bluetooth" (Bluetooth 2.1 and 3.0), "Bluetooth high speed" (Bluetooth 3.0+HS) and the new "Bluetooth low energy" (Bluetooth Smart Ready/Bluetooth Smart) protocols. Bluetooth high speed is based on WiFi 802.11 and Classic Bluetooth consists of legacy Bluetooth protocols. The new Bluetooth low energy is a subset to Bluetooth V4.0 with an entirely new protocol stack for rapid build-up of simple links. As an alternative to the Bluetooth standard protocols that were introduced in Bluetooth v1.0 to V4.0 it is aimed at very low power applications running off a coin cell and allow for two types of implementation, dual-mode, single-mode and enhanced past versions.
A little bit more difficult is now to understand the difference between classic Bluetooth/Bluetooth high speed and Bluetooth low energy. Basically it can be said, that classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth high speed is what Bluetooth is used to be today. These Bluetooth Smart Ready devices acts as the hub and has all the power and intelligence to work with the received data. It allows the (high-)speed real-time exchange of data, be it voice, file synchronization, or what ever Bluetooth might be used for today. Bluetooth low energy is not used for high-speed relevant real-time exchange but it's used for Bluetooth Smart Devices. These devices can collect certain data and send it back to the hub, or the other way around where a hub can send data to the smart device to initiate a function.
Examples for Bluetooth Smart Ready devices are the iPhone 4S, the Motorola Droid Razr and the 2011 Apple MacBook Air which come with Bluetooth 4.0. This allows to use the devices in a traditional way as well as connecting them to Bluetooth Smart Ready devices like the Casio G-Shock smart watch, the Motorola Motoactv or a Bluetooth key ring from Texas Instruments.
Smart Devices are designed for certain use cases which are used with Smart Ready devices. For instance comes the Casio G-Shock smart watch with a proximity sensor which gives an alarm if the connected phone is out of range. The key ring can be used to ping the connected phone, in case it's put anywhere at home as well as the phone can ping the key chain if again misplaced anywhere.
But what does it means for the end user and consumer? Well, it means that the use and interoperability of Bluetooth might become a little bit more difficult and confusing because from now, not all Bluetooth devices are equal anymore and necessarily compatible to each other. If you have a Bluetooth Smart Ready device like the Apple iPhone 4S or the Motorola Droid Razr, your are on the safe side because Smart Ready devices are compatible to all other Bluetooth devices. If you own a Bluetooth 3.0 device like the brand new Samsung Galaxy Nexus, you can't connect to Bluetooth Smart devices, like the Casio G-Shock, the Motorola Motoactv or accessories like key rings but these devices are pretty much stuck in the "old" Bluetooth world. If you plan to buy the one or the other Bluetooth Smart device, you need a Bluetooth Smart Ready device.
Jawanda told us, that the Bluetooth SIG expects a very fast adoption of Bluetooth 4.0 dual-mode devices which means full compatibility might be given again within the next 24 months or so. However, during this period, it's important to keep an eye on the Bluetooth logos prior purchase to make sure everything works together.
Cheers ~ Arne