Apple unveiled its newest iPhone Tuesday in a highly anticipated announcement. The iPhone 4S has a multitude of different features that each stand out to make it a tempting upgrade for existing iPhone owners, including an artificially intelligent virtual assistant named Siri. One of the most overlooked features of the iPhone 4S is an upgrade from Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR to Bluetooth 4.0. What does Bluetooth 4.0 bring to the table, and why is this minor and easily overlooked update so important to the future of wireless device interaction?
The Bluetooth 4.0 standard includes Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a feature of the standard that enables smaller and lower-powered devices to communicate with a Bluetooth 4.0 capable device. This means that devices can share information with the iPhone 4S while using only a fraction of the energy conventional Bluetooth devices use. The amount of power required to run these devices can amount to a single button-cell battery every year. That’s practically no energy at all, really.
There is also a significant increase in the range of one of these devices, bringing the stable range from 30 meters in the Bluetooth 2.1 standard up to 50 meters using Bluetooth 4.0. Because frequencies and communication languages match, Bluetooth 4.0 devices are backwards compatible. Standard Bluetooth technology has a higher application throughput, enabling features such as voice transmission and other data-intensive tasks to take place. This limits low energy applications to small bits of data, capping at roughly 0.26 Mb/s. Bluetooth 4.0 devices can use both standard and low energy technologies.
Where BLE technology makes an important mark is in the world of healthcare. Implanted and worn monitors depend on a reliable and long-lasting source of power in order to keep functioning. Because of this, consumer-available wireless technology is rarely able to sync up with these devices and monitor the data they have available. In the future, you could theoretically see a home healthcare application where your phone could alert emergency services for you in the event of a health emergency.
On the other side, Bluetooth Low Energy technology could create a more battery-efficient connection between your phone and your watch, media center, and other devices that could benefit from active communication with your mobile phone. For example, if you receive a call on your phone, your watch could display the caller’s information so you don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket or stop what you’re doing to take the call.
This technology could also make way for proximity-based applications such as automatic phone locking and unlocking based on your being in the area, access to buildings with automatic door locks, and possibly even interaction with smaller objects such as credit cards and ID bracelets.
Bluetooth Low Energy also has big advantages over Near Field Communication (NFC), which is presently one of the leading low-powered wireless communication technologies on the market — the largest of which is the range of the devices, with NFC being roughly 0.2 meters and BLE connections capable across 50 meters.
With this kind of technology being put in the hands of consumers, there’s no telling exactly how many interesting applications can come about in the next several years.