Jelly Beans just got smarter: Bluetooth connectivity boosts Android 4.3

November 1, 2013 OpenSystems Media

The release of Android Jelly Bean 4.3 came with many new features, including performance enhancements, OpenGL ES 3.0 support, and a variety of Bluetooth upgrades like Bluetooth Smart Ready technology, which enables Android to break further into intelligent applications and the Internet of Things
(IoT). Embedded Computing Design talked with Steve Hegenderfer, Director of Developer Programs for the Bluetooth SIG about Bluetooth Smart Ready technology and what it means for Android developers in version 4.3. Edited excerpts follow.

ECD: What is Bluetooth Smart Ready technology, and did Bluetooth take part in its integration with Android Jelly Bean 4.3?

HEGENDERFER: Bluetooth Smart Ready devices are phones and tablets that have a dual-mode Bluetooth chip that gather specific data from sensors, like the state of door locks or a user’s weight or vitals, and send that data to a Bluetooth Smart device (Figure 1). They are built to Bluetooth v4.0 specifications, the latest version of Bluetooth wireless technology that includes a low-energy feature that provides the basis of Bluetooth Smart Ready technology. They also include a dual-mode, low-energy radio. These devices are also built on a Generic Attribute Profile (GATT)-based architecture, which is built on the Attribute Protocol (ATT). The architecture establishes common operations and a framework for transporting data that is stored by the ATT. Examples of Bluetooth Smart Ready devices include phones, tablets, PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles that sit at the center of the users’ connected world. These devices receive data sent from Classic Bluetooth devices, like keyboards and audio headphones, and then feed it into applications that turn the data into useful information. Bluetooth Smart “appcessories” include ultra-low-power devices like wearable fitness devices, smart watches, medical devices, and smart locks.

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Figure 1: Bluetooth Smart Ready devices are phones or tablets that act as a hub for Bluetooth Smart “appcessories” such as medical devices and smart door locks, which they communicate with via ATT.

The Bluetooth SIG played an advisory role to Google, helping Google to understand how the technology works and how to go to market.

ECD: How is the Bluetooth SIG significant to Android Jelly Bean 4.3 and Android developers?

HEGENDERFER: Android OEMs and developers particularly stand out as winners with this technology, in addition to consumers who can expect Bluetooth Smart devices to “just work” with devices they already have due to increasing native support.

When any of the dozens of Android device OEMs use the latest Android OS that includes a dual-mode Bluetooth chip (with BR/EDR and low-energy radios), the product is Bluetooth Smart Ready – meaning it can connect to billions of Bluetooth BR/EDR devices like speakers, cars, mice, keyboards, and billions of Bluetooth Smart appcessories.

Also, life will be much easier and simpler for developers going forward. They no longer need to write multiple APIs for multiple Bluetooth Smart Ready implementations from various Android OEMs. They now have one native API (Android’s SDK) to write to connect to millions of devices, regardless of the OEM. They don’t need to worry about learning multiple SDKs, hence different APIs for each Bluetooth implementation. Developers can use the native Android APIs for Bluetooth across all Android 4.3 and later devices. Post Android Jelly Bean 4.3, they don’t have to worry about the complicated matrix of device support. This means they can get to market quicker and be guaranteed that the appcessories will work with all Android 4.3+ devices because they’re Bluetooth Smart Ready hubs.

Seamless updating is also a new benefit of Bluetooth Smart Ready technology. Developers can distribute apps on Google Play for consumers, and when consumers download the app, in the background the associated Bluetooth profile updates the software stack on the Android device.

Also, the Bluetooth SIG has released an Application Accelerator for Android. This kit contains code, videos, and documentation to speed app development for Android 4.3 devices that communicate with Bluetooth Smart devices.

ECD: What Bluetooth connectivity options are now available to Android application developers with the 4.3 release?

HEGENDERFER: Multiple code bases are no longer needed just to support different Bluetooth stacks – Google now offers a single set of APIs on all Android devices supporting SDK version 18 and higher. This will be available first on Android 4.3 phones and tablets. With the new API developers can build Android applications that communicate with Bluetooth Smart peripherals, such as heart rate monitors, pedometers, smart door locks, and smart light bulbs. ABI Research projects 220 million Bluetooth Smart appcessories coming to market this year and almost 1.5 billion shipping in the next three years. Android 4.3 devices with Bluetooth Smart Ready will be able to connect with Classic Bluetooth devices and Bluetooth Smart devices, and feed it into applications that turn the data into useful information (Figure 2).

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Figure 2: The consolidation to a single set of APIs on Android versions 18 and above, Android 4.3 devices that are Bluetooth Smart Ready-enabled will be able to communicate with both Bluetooth Smart and Classic Bluetooth devices.

ECD: What markets do you see becoming available to Android with the Bluetooth capabilities now available in 4.3?

HEGENDERFER: Markets like sports and fitness, health and medical, home automation, and any other consumer electronic devices and appcessories will benefit from and leverage the low-cost, power-efficient, and ubiquitous nature of Bluetooth Smart technology. Bluetooth Smart technology is optimized for these markets because these devices are sending bursts of cloud-friendly, lightweight, real-time data.

Also, with Android being open sourced, this opens it up to be used in more embedded systems and the Internet of Things (IoT), as Bluetooth is the standard for wireless connectivity for devices.

ECD: How does Bluetooth connectivity in Jelly Bean 4.3 position Android devices in the IoT?

HEGENDERFER: Bluetooth technology is a key enabler of the IoT ecosystem, because it is ultra-low-powered, trusted, and, most importantly, everywhere – especially in devices already in the hands of consumers. Ease, scale, and ubiquity make it the trusted and preferred wireless technology for consumers, developers, OEMs, and suppliers when it comes to connecting their things in the IoT ecosystem.

With the major operating systems now providing native Smart Ready support, it is easy for handset, tablet, TV, and PC OEMs to make Bluetooth Smart Ready available to consumers. This allows Bluetooth Smart OEMs, first-, and third-party app developers to bring virtually any “thing” into the IoT with Bluetooth.

ECD: What can we expect from Bluetooth in the near future?

HEGENDERFER: With the proliferation of Bluetooth Smart and Smart Ready technology, we expect to see continued growth and adoption across markets. Bluetooth is already the wireless standard of choice in the sports and fitness arena, and that is extending into the health and medical space as well. Home automation is expected to follow a very similar path. ABI Research recently reported that Bluetooth Smart will experience the highest growth in the category.

Steve Hegenderfer is the Director of Development Programs for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

Bluetooth Special Interest Group

www.bluetooth.org

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Steve Hegenderfer (Bluetooth SIG)
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