What's the best way for untethered devices, including wearables, beacons, and sensors, to communicate via the Internet of Things? It's doubtful one wireless technology will dominate, but the energy-saving attributes of Bluetooth Smart should make it a major player in data-intensive enterprise and consumer applications.
At least, so say Bluetooth industry backers, who are gathering this week at Bluetooth World 2014, which takes place April 8-9 in San Jose, Calif. Bluetooth's role in the emerging IoT will be a hot topic at the conference, according to Suke Jawanda, chief marketing officer of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).
The main reason is that Bluetooth Smart, also known as Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) or BLE, was designed for a new class of fitness, healthcare, home entertainment, and security applications. Originally developed by Nokia, this low-energy wireless spec was merged with the main Bluetooth standard in 2010.
It's taken awhile, but today all major mobile operating systems, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry, support BLE, a factor that will help speed the technology's adoption, Jawanda told InformationWeek in a phone interview.
[What does the Internet of Things really mean to businesses? Read Internet Of Things – Or Business Of Applications?]
Over the past four years, Bluetooth backers have position BLE as an efficient way to link sensors, wearables, and other "devices on the edge" to web services and cloud applications.
"We've started the Internet of My Things boom," said Jawanda. "All of these wearables -- whether they're watches or fitness bracelets -- are good examples of that. What's happening in each case is you've got a relatively small device… with sensors, and it's generating data."
He added: "The software piece at the operating system level is the key part. It's not only connecting devices, but also devices to applications that turn data into information" for users.
Bluetooth beacons -- low-energy, low-cost transmitters that function as part of an indoor positioning system -- show great potential as well, said Jawanda. Apple's iBeacon technology probably is the best-known example of this location-monitoring technology.
"It's really interesting from an industrial and commercial perspective. Apple has iBeacon. PayPal is rolling out their beacons. Macy's, Major League Baseball, and the NFL -- they're all rolling this out. They're all Bluetooth Smart beacons."
So where's the benefit? A retailer such as Macy's could use Bluetooth beacons to market directly to individuals.
"Before I even walk into Macy's, I get a welcome screen on my app that says, 'Welcome, Suke.' Through the application, it knows who I am. It's using proximity and authentication through my phone, matching that with big data based on my past purchase history. And not only is it welcoming me, it could also send me a custom offer as I walk into the store."
Of course, Bluetooth Smart has its competitors. Near Field Communication (NFC) promises similar capabilities but has yet to catch on among retailers and consumers, in no small part due to Apple's lack of interest in the technology.
"It's like apples and oranges comparing [Bluetooth Smart] to NFC," said Jawanda. "When you look at NFC -- and we work with NFC as well -- the retail experience doesn't change. I would still line up at the terminal, but instead of pulling out my credit card, I'd tap my phone on the terminal."
But with Bluetooth Smart, "I don't necessarily have to go to a central register to buy my sweater. I can buy it right from the counter. It can completely change the way I purchase things."
Android's support of Bluetooth Smart, which didn't happen until last year, will likely be another hot topic at Bluetooth World 2014.
"Android came later to the game, and it's just starting to ramp up," Jawanda told us. "So 2014 to 2015 will be big as more Bluetooth Smart-enabled Android devices reach the market."
What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio