updated 01:00 am EDT, Thu July 11, 2013
Features could be used in future wearable devices like 'smartwatches'
A document detailing future features planned for the next three years of Bluetooth show a strong interest in using the short-range wireless protocol for health monitoring, but also hint at features that could be useful to Apple, Google and other companies in the race to develop more "wearable" devices like Apple's rumored "smartwatch" and Google's Glass project. Among the planned enhancements are support for IPv6 web browsing, biometric functions such as heart rate monitoring and even indoor GPS, which Apple and Google are both known to be working on.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has not confirmed the roadmap, but Apple is a member of the SIG and would contribute to the group's efforts, reports AppleInsider. Many of the innovations planned would apply more to standalone devices that could utilize Bluetooth LE (low energy) to add or take on standard functions while still reducing energy use. Bluetooth 4.0 devices can take advantage of a ultra low-energy mode to prolong battery life far more than older versions do. Battery savings in devices like headsets and even smartphones could be dramatic.
Of the most interest to companies like Apple -- beyond the energy savings -- could be the indoor positioning system based on an enhanced packet structure that allows for direction finding, asset tracking or "public indoor positioning." Apple recently acquired a company called called WiFiSLAM for the same kind of technology based on Wi-Fi. Being able to accomplish the same goal using lower-power Bluetooth would allow the company to add the feature without causing a significant drain on the battery in mobile devices. Presently, traditional GPS is all but useless inside a building or arena.
The roadmap envisions the indoor GPS feature to be available sometime next year, and also promises additional forthcoming features such as faster connections, extended range, increased security and privacy and as mentioned all while using ever-less power. The technique in Bluetooth Low Energy involves a more sophisticated sleep mode when not being actively used, even if the inactive period is brief, fostering significant cumulative energy savings.
Adding IPv6 to Bluetooth would allow appliances of all kinds to be assigned an IP address that would give more devices the ability to access the Internet when sources are available. This could be used for simple purposes such as automatic time correction in a microwave oven, for example, or allowing Bluetooth accessories to handle firmware updates automatically, or send messages to other devices.
Fitness and health devices -- like the fitness band that Apple CEO Tim Cook wears -- could collect much more data and exchange it with other devices and the Internet more efficiently. Taking all the features of a Nike Fuelband, for example, and incorporating that and more into a "smartwatch" that interacts with your smartphone would be an example of what can be accomplished, with the band now being able to go months or even a year between recharging. Rumors about an Apple "smartwatch" have often focused on such applications, and the roadmap includes features such as heart, pulse and even blood glucose monitoring, physical activity, steps and body temperature specifically among the planned features.
The technology could be used in medical devices as well, for example communicating changes in heart rate or regularity to a smartphone or directly to an Internet monitoring service, using a secure user identification system to encrypt the information. Battery status, HVAC support, alert notification and generic I/O for automation purposes are also planned for the future updates, which are currently going by the codenames Budapest, CSA5 and Shanghai. The updates are planned to roll out over the next three years, though when they will reach the market in everyday devices is yet to be determined.