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Bluetooth Group: Low-Energy Spec Creating New Opportunities

New York –Bluetooth’s low-energy profile, part of the Bluetooth 4.0 spec finalized in 2010, is creating new opportunities in the consumer electronics, sports and fitness, health and medical, and smart-home markets, said Suke Jawanda, CMO of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

More than 10 million battery-operated peripheral devices equipped with the Bluetooth low-energy technology, called Bluetooth Smart, shipped worldwide in 2011, mostly into the U.S., he said. The products include strap-on heart-rate monitors, strap-on workout sensors, other health-monitoring sensors, computer peripherals, and the like, all of which are called peripherals by the SIG. That number will rise in 2012 to 78 million on its way to 1.1 billion in 2017, the Bluetooth SIG forecasts.

Such Bluetooth Smart peripherals as body sensors send data to Smart-ready hubs, such as PCs and smartphones, for display on their screens. Those sensors, and other Bluetooth Smart peripherals such as planned wireless keyboards, will operate far longer on batteries than they would if they used standard Bluetooth, said Jawanda.

The technology extends battery life by more than 10 times compared to battery-operated devices incorporating higher power Bluetooth, he said. A device that runs for six to seven months on two AA batteries will run six to eight years when using Bluetooth Smart, he said. Other devices can be reduced in size by incorporating lower power button-cell batteries instead of AA batteries.

The low-energy technology  will appear for the first time in wireless keyboards in the next few months.

The growth of battery-powered Bluetooth Smart peripherals will be driven in large part by the growing adoption of the technology in smartphones and tablets, which will communicate with such devices as smart watches, motorized door locks, home-security sensors, and strap-on devices such as heart-rate monitors and calorie-burning sensors, Jawanda said during a SIG-sponsored demonstration of Bluetooth products from 14 companies. Most companies showed Bluetooth Smart peripherals that communicate with such Smarty-ready hubs as the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and the new iPad. Apple MacBooks and MacMinis launched since 2011 also incorporate the technology, he said.

All Windows 8 PCs and tablets will also support Bluetooth Smart, and the SIG is in talks with Google to incorporate native Bluetooth Smart support in the Android OS, he added. For now, select Android smartphone suppliers are implementing Bluetooth Smart in select handsets, including all Motorola Razr handsets since last year and in Samsung Galaxy models starting with the SIII, Jawanda said.

Although “virtually every smartphone shipped since the first quarter has a dual-mode Bluetooth chip [incorporating the low-energy and higher energy profiles],” the Android OS does not support Bluetooth Smart natively, he said.

Smartphones and PCs equipped with Bluetooth Smart are considered hub devices that talk to peripherals, but TVs could also become hubs, enabling Bluetooth-equipped glucose monitors, for example, to display glucose readings or send those readings to a doctor, Jawanda said.

During the demonstrations, Polar showed its first Bluetooth Smart heart-rate sensor with free Apple app. The $79-suggested device is available through Best Buy, running and cycling shops, and health clubs.

Fossil-spinoff Metawatch of Dallas showed its first two smartwatches, available in three to four weeks at $179 and $199 on its web site. The watches, which feature dual-mode Bluetooth chips, communicate with Android phones to display text messages, email headers, and caller ID data as well as control such music playback features as volume, track up/down, pause, and track-title display.

Wahoo Fitness showed bike sensors and strap-on monitors, and Blue Click of Budapest, Hungary, showed Bluetooth-equipped LED light bulbs that can be controlled from Apple’s mobile devices.

Prices range from $20 to $50 each depending on wattage and whether an RGB model, which can be programmed to change colors, is selected.

Eventually, through a Bluetooth gateway, the bulbs could be controlled from afar, said CEO Kornel Holmos. That gateway could also let remote users monitor planned smoke sensors planned by the company.

Blue Click is currently selecting U.S. distributors.