Google Android support completes Bluetooth low-energy picture

Svenn-Tore Larsen, CEO of Nordic Semiconductor



At Google I/O 2013, the annual developer-fest for all things Google-related, held recently in San Francisco, the company stated its commitment to support Bluetooth v4.0. Google explained it would also release an open API for Bluetooth low energy development on the Android platform "in a few short months" with the introduction of Android API level 18. It's been a long time coming, but Google's announcement that Android will offer native support for Bluetooth low energy sees the final piece of the Bluetooth low energy jigsaw puzzle snap into place. This is a particularly gratifying moment for me because the company I lead has been instrumental in the development of the Bluetooth low energy part of the Bluetooth v4.0 Core Specification since before it was a twinkle in the SIG's eye. In fact, Nordic Semiconductor was working on the technology before it even became "Bluetooth low energy". As far back as 2001, the Finnish mobile device firm Nokia had envisaged linking wireless peripherals to cellphones using a ‘Bluetooth-like' technology but requiring much less power to operate. In 2006 Nordic Semiconductor was one of the founder members of the Wibree Alliance, an industry grouping organised by Nokia to develop an interoperable ultra low power wireless technology to do the job. Now, seven years later, Nokia's vision is reality. Better yet, the reality is far superior to the dream because in 2006—a year before the first iPhone was introduced—the Wibree Alliance hadn't anticipated how mobile devices would diversify into powerful smartphones and tablets capable of running hundreds of thousands of downloadable ‘apps'. Nor had the Alliance predicted how such apps would dramatically multiply the usefulness of ultra low power wireless accessories. Today, Bluetooth v4.0 is rapidly superseding previous version of the technology in handsets and computers, and Bluetooth low energy chips such as Nordic's nRF51822 and devices from other vendors are finding their way into coin cell-powered peripherals. But to really get the sector rolling it needed the major mobile-operating system (OS) vendors—Apple, Microsoft, and Google—to make it easy for developers to design peripheral accessories that linked seamlessly with companion apps (‘appcessories') supported on the devices running these vendors' software. With iOS and Windows 8 mobile OSs having already adopted native support for Bluetooth low energy, Google's commitment represents the final event that will see the appcessory market boom. Some Android handhelds (such as the Samsung Galaxy S4) already implement Bluetooth low energy, however the new version will bring native support to all Android devices with compatible Bluetooth hardware. The industry is expecting Google's API release to support the current range of officially adopted profiles which provide support for an array of personal device applications from blood glucose monitoring to proximity sensing. Whilst full details of the API are still to emerge, I'm interested to see if HID over GATT (HoG) support will be present. I hope so, because HoG support for Android would, at a stroke, open up tremendous opportunities for the emergence of brand new market segments for Android-based devices. Ultra low power wireless keyboard and gesture-based trackpad accessories for tablet docking stations represent just a few such possibilities. HOG support would enable desktop peripheral manufacturers to leverage the connectivity simplicity of Bluetooth while immediately benefiting from the significantly better power economy of Bluetooth low energy compared to old ‘classic' Bluetooth designs. And, because Android has a secure foothold as a platform for Smart TVs, HoG support will see smart navigation and interaction devices for home entertainment quickly hit the market. Nordic and other silicon vendors are committed to supporting the Android Bluetooth low energy API when it's released. My company's support will extend across its existing range of development tools and reference designs that enable developers to get to market rapidly in this fast-moving sector. As one of the original supporters of the technology, Nordic has from the outset offered apps to developers for both iOS- and Android-powered devices, where a proprietary Bluetooth low energy API has existed. Shortly after iOS and Windows 8 native support adoption, we witnessed a wave of growth in the appcessory sector. With Android support I expect that wave to become a tsunami because of the significant market share enjoyed by Android powered-smartphones, -tablet computers, and -entertainment platforms such as Smart TVs. Nordic Semiconductor