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.
New and Upcoming Bluetooth SMART Products
Satechi Bluetooth Smart Trigger – $44.99
The Satechi Bluetooth Smart Trigger is a wireless timer remote which lets you control your DSLR camera from your smartphone. You can do timed shots, normal and manual long exposure all from your handset’s touchscreen. The battery lasts between 2 and 10 years, so you’ll have plenty of time to play. [Video]
Wahoo Blue SC Cycle Sensor – $59.99
The Wahoo Blue SC Cycle Sensor is a small wireless device which is attached to the frame of the bicycle and which then converts your iPhone or other compatible Bluetooth device into a bicycle computer. The sensor tracks speed, cadence and distance, and can link with a number of different health and computing apps on the phone. The device can run for up to a year on one watch (coin) type battery cell. [Video]
Pogo Connect – $79.95
The Pogo Connect is not your grandmother’s stylus. This baby features a zero calibration, all angles, ultra sensitive pressure tip with a battery life rated in months and a super cool location finder that helps you track down your stylus if you misplace it. [Video]
PlusPlugg +Weather – €89.95
The Plus Plugg is an innovative little remote sensor appcessory which links up to your smartphone to deliver full weather station functionality in a cube. Just put the thing inside or outside, and the sensors will immediately start to automatically record temperature, pressure and humidity. The device has its own rechargeable battery and syncs to the phone automatically using Bluetooth SMART. Expect to see a growing range of these low energy gadgets follow on from this.
Gow Smart T-Shirt – €99.95 (including heart rate monitor dongle)
The Gow Training system includes a range of sports clothing which integrates cardiac sensor compatible textiles with thermoregulation and antibacterial features. Snap in the heart rate sensor, with its 15 month battery life, and you can monitor your fitness, training routines and even your carbohydrate burn. All connected with the free smartphone app. [Video ]
Leica DISTO D-510 Distance Meter -£478.80
The Leica DISTO D-510 is an electronic ruler, like a Bic pen is a novelist. This fancy device can measures angles, heights, distances and levels like a boss. In conjunction with a Bluetooth SMART connection with a smartphone and app, it can also help produce on the spot ground plans and tables on a phone or tablet. Can your wooden ruler do that? [Video]
Pally Smart Key Finder – TBA
The Pally Smart Key Finder helps you locate your misplaced keys or other valuables from up to 200 feet away, which gives it a big advantage over locators which typically only range up to 30 meters or so. The batteries on the unit last up to 2 years and it features an ear splitting 115db alarm tone. Apps are available for Android and iPhone.
Casio G-Shock GB6900 Bluetooth Watch – $209.29
Ready to communicate using ultra low power with your mobile phone. It not only notifies you of calls or emails on your Bluetooth SMART Ready mobile phone with a tone or vibration, but also shows a visible alert too. Operates for 2 years on a single watch cell battery. [Video ]
The LG OneKey Wireless Remote is a tiny remote control for your smartphone. The device lets you operate the camera, take videos, locate the phone and even control the phone’s music player with a touch of the single button. It’s a great pocket friendly size and runs for years on a single coin battery. [Video]
LUMOBack Posture Monitor – $149.00
This innovative posture sensor sits at the base of the back tucked against the body, and alerts you with a gentle vibration when you start to slouch in a posture which is bad for your back. Since back ailments make up a huge proportion of the human condition, this is definitely a welcome thing. The sensor uses the new Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone to give a reading of your good or bad habits. [Video ]
Tethercell – $35.00
This Tethercell is a super clever idea which turns your smartphone into a remote control for any device which uses normal AA cell batteries. Take out a battery from the product you want to control, put it into the Tethercell case and re-insert it into the device. From then on you have remote control of functions. Of course when we say control we mean, switch it on and off, set a timer or get a low batter alert. Is that worth the money? It’s your call. [Video]
So there you have it, the start of a brave new era of the smartphone hub, connecting a slew of gadgets, delivering convenience and value to their owners and making the world a happier and more pleasant place. Or is it the beginning of the end? A world where there’s never enough power to keep our gadgets happy and our phones satisfied? We shall see.