One of the important Android announcements made at Google’s recent developers conference was the upcoming support for Bluetooth Smart (or Bluetooth low energy as it is sometimes known) in the next version of Android. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean supports Android API level 17. The commitment from Google is that Android API level 18 will support the Bluetooth Smart. Official API level support for Bluetooth Smart will finally allow the “Internet of things” to come to Android.
“Internet of things” refers to the world of interconnected smart devices, ranging from sensors in your shoe to smart doors that can open themselves. For this next generation of smart-devices to communicate a common protocol is needed. Bluetooth Classic was able to provide such comms, but it was a battery killer. The new Bluetooth low energy (BLE) specification allows devices to consume only a fraction of the energy of a classic Bluetooth device. Where as classic Bluetooth devices measure their battery life in hours, Bluetooth Smart devices measure their battery in months or even years!
Although several devices including the Samsung Galaxy S3, the Galaxy S4, the HTC One X and the HTC One are Bluetooth Smart Ready, the lack of native API support in Android meant that manufactures had to provide their own Bluetooth Smart SDKs. This wasn’t very satisfactory as any apps designed to work with these smart-devices needed to be implemented on each Android device separately.
The native Android support for Bluetooth Smart Ready technology available in the coming months means Bluetooth Smart developers will have an easy way to connect their devices to and distribute their applications within the massive Android ecosystem.
Suke Jawanda, CMO of the Bluetooth SIG
Now that Android will support Bluetooth Smart, developers have a chance to start creating some very exciting smart devices that can communicate with an Android device. There are of course some already on the market including the Pebble smart-watch and Fitbit’s range of personal fitness trackers. According to the official Bluetooth website there are already a whole range of gadgets in existence that rely on Bluetooth Smart including weight scales, proximity sensors, heart rate monitors, treadmills, GPS tracking devices, glucose monitors, dimmer lamps and helicopters!
The potential for these Bluetooth Smart devices is enormous. Beyond the current range of heart sensors and GPS trackers there is a whole untapped market for sensors that can monitor everything from the speed of a golf ball to the temperature inside an oven.
The Bluetooth Smart specification defines certain profiles which give us a peek into what is possible. Aimed at ‘always-on’ devices with long battery lives, Bluetooth Smart allows a button to be pressed on one device and an alarm to sound on another. So it looks like the days of those missing keys which have slipped behind the sofa are gone.
There is also a profile for proximity detection. It allows one device to detect whether another device is close by. This allows an alarm to be sounded (or another action like opening a door automatically) when the devices are a certain distance apart. There is also provision for a device like a wristwatch to receive notifications from another device, such as a phone, to alert the wearer to something happening on the phone, like an incoming call, alarm or notification.
It isn’t clear yet if API level 18 will be Android 4.3 or Android 5.0. A couple of weeks ago the Nexus 4 received official Bluetooth 4.0 certification and shortly after the Nexus 7 with Android 4.3 was spotted going for its Bluetooth 4.0 exam. Also we here at AndroidAuthority.com have noticed quite a few Android 4.3 builds not too long ago in our server logs.
When looking to get your next Android device the key phrase to look out for is “Bluetooth Smart Ready.” That means the device has a dual-mode Bluetooth chip that can use Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Smart. A device with only “Bluetooth Smart” certification can only talk to smart-devices and can’t use “normal” Bluetooth devices.
What smart-devices would you like to see and how would they interact with your Android device?