If you think the age of the smartphone is exciting now, get ready for an explosion of cool to come, as manufacturers and software developers start to take advantage of the up and coming new wireless technologies such as Bluetooth SMART and Bluetooth aptX to really show off what your phone can do. Instead of just being a dumb communication and gaming device, your handset will become the hub of an ecosystem of tools and software that may well change the way we live our lives.
Bluetooth technology has been with us since 1998, with the first Bluetooth mobile phone seeing the light of day in 2000. Since then we’ve benefited from an explosion of wireless gadgets, ranging from headsets to printers and more.
Today there are 17,000 companies involved in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and over 9 billion BT products have shipped across the world. We spent a day at the SIG roadshow in London recently to find out exactly what the new version of Bluetooth is all about, and learn what kind of neat products we could expect to see over the next months and years.
To kick off, here’s a quick video of Paul Williamson of Bluetooth specialists CSR Ltd, talking about some of the coolness of this technology and giving a demo of one of the first appcessories, the PlusPlugg +Ruler.
The Appcessory Boom
So far the smartphone market has been dominated by the growing power of the handset – e.g. single, dual, quad and even eight-core processors et al – and the explosion in apps which give our phones the ability to do all sorts of clever things. Wireless accessories have generally been relegated to a supporting role, for things like headphones, speakers and fitness dongles.
But all that’s about to change with the new Bluetooth SMART tech. BT SMART (which is currently a superset of Bluetooth V. 4.0) is the latest ultra low power specification for the venerable wireless standard, and it comes with some interesting features. First off is the fact that instead of your wireless accessories needing to be recharged every few days or weeks, new BT SMART products should last for a year or more on a single battery or charge, obviously depending on what they’re doing.
This massive improvement in battery life should usher in a whole bunch of new gadgets which connect to our phones and just sit there waiting to spring into action when needed. Health and fitness tools are already trickling onto the market, but expect much more from the technology over the coming years once the marketing folk get their head around the possibilities. It also means that products can be powered by small coin (or watch cell) type batteries, which means smaller gadgets and easier battery replacement.
BT SMART also delivers the death blow to pairing, that much hated process which you have to go through to get your conventional devices to connect. With the latest version of Bluetooth all you have to do is hold the device next to the product you want to connect to and it’s all done in an instant. The low latency of the new technology is also a real game changer, literally, as it means that faster and more sensitive controllers for games and other applications can be brought to market, which will improve the user experience all round.
Here’s a video of Alex Verrey of game peripheral maker Madcatz talking about upcoming low latency Bluetooth SMART products for gaming, and showing off a few computer and gaming peripherals, including a neat new handheld controller.
In order to be fully up to date on the technology, you’ll need to remember three things.
1. The new standard is built around two categories – Bluetooth SMART and Bluetooth SMART READY. The former applies to the small button battery type accessories like sensors, data collectors, while the latter will apply to dual mode radio products like phones, TVs, laptops etc, which will be able to work with both conventional (aka Classic) Bluetooth as well as the new SMART devices.
So in the near future, if you buy a new phone, game console, set-top box, computer or TV, you should make sure it is Bluetooth SMART Ready, which will mean it can work with your existing BT devices and is also compatible (or can be upgraded by software to be compatible) with any BT SMART devices. Currently most new top line brands are introducing BT SMART READY products, such as the iPhone 5, Samsung S3 and Note 2, Motorola Droid Razor and the latest iPad.
2. It follows on that you cannot use new BT SMART devices with older Bluetooth CLASSIC products because they’re based on completely different chipsets. A software upgrade won’t work. But expect to see more multi-mode dongles appear which will add BT SMART capabilities to older hardware. It’s the same as with USB 2 and 3 really.
3. Once the new standard catches on, you should be able to switch and match your accessories between different devices. So for example, if you have a games controller for your console, it should also work instantly with your laptop or your phone, if they’re all Bluetooth SMART compatible. This should mean an end to the nightmare of having to buy different controllers and accessories for different product types.
So what kinds of products can we expect to see as part of this new wireless revolution? Here’s our pick of the current crop of interesting Bluetooth SMART gadgets already trickling onto the market. Check out the products and videos after the jump.