The next version of Bluetooth will be frugal enough with power to run devices using button-cell batteries, the wireless standard's industry special interest group (SIG) has announced.
At that level of power consumption, Bluetooth 4.0, due for release this summer, will be economical enough to be used in a range of low-tech devices such as pedometers, glucose meters, energy sensors, and watches, all running from button batteries designed to last years.
The version 4.0 specification also encourages the standard's use at longer range, which will now be as far as 200 feet (61 metres), more in line with Wi-Fi, a technology with which Bluetooth has increasingly found itself competing.
Wi-fi has now firmly parked its tanks on Bluetooth's lawn, not least with the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Direct standard, aimed at a taking over a range of short-range wireless capabilities once the exclusive domain of Bluetooth. The new standard - or at least the fuss being made about its arrival - is partly a reaction to that.
"The low energy feature of Bluetooth v4.0 is truly groundbreaking," said Gartner's wireless analyst, Nick Jones, quoted by the Bluetooth SIG in its press release on version 4.0. "At Gartner, we identified it as the top mobile technology to watch for in 2010 primarily because of its ability to smash open the barriers to new markets for Bluetooth technology and consumer electronics device manufacturers. We're excited to see this one hit the market."
Bluetooth 4.0 devices will likely use the low-power, single-mode approach, or integrate this into the established capabilities of Bluetooth devices as dual-mode products. From a user standpoint, however, version 4.0 signals a division of Bluetooth into two applications, high power (PCs, headsets, phones, and cameras) and low power (a raft of low-power uses).
Bluetooth's problem is that beyond niche applications such as phone headsets, a few keyboards and phone-to-phone connections, plus a few vertical markets, the technology is barely used by the general public. Shipping on many laptops, it has become the new infrared, a wireless technology aimed at printers that ended up being ignored by end users. Wireless access on low-power devices represents its best hope.