Wearable technology has been in the public imagination since Dick Tracy first brought a wrist radio to his lips, and has inspired geeks everywhere to wear calculator watches. Today, what was once fantasy is now reality and what was once considered a trend regulated to secret agents and nerds is transforming into a must-have for athletes, and soon, everyone.

Sports Brands Take the Lead in Wearables

In late January, Nike introduced the FuelBand, an electronic bracelet using accelerometers to measure a wearer’s activity throughout the day and present them visually via Bluetooth to their mobile phone and through USB to their computer. Late last year Jawbone also entered the game with its Up device, which measures sleep as well as activity levels.

This isn’t the first incidence of mobile devices being used in a wearable fashion or for measuring activity. After all, Nike+ and a pedometer are now built directly into all iPod Nanos, and bracelet carrying cases for Nano have long been popular. But one new technology in particular is about to throw open the wearable space like never before.

The Power of Low Power

Bluetooth has been the most popular method for bridging between our different hardware, and it’s worked well, but it isn’t without problems. The short range wireless technology is notorious for eating up battery and losing connectivity, but a new evolution of Bluetooth has arrived that promises to bring an end to these problems.

To understand Bluetooth Low Energy, a new subset of Bluetooth’s latest 4.0 version, you must first understand the difference in philosophy between this Bluetooth and its predecessor. Traditional Bluetooth was connection focused – it maintained a constant link, even when data wasn’t flowing, and through that link it could send large amounts of information that let us remotely control game consoles or talk on our phone headset.

Where traditional Bluetooth was for constant streams of large data, BLE is for an infrequent stream of small data. It is truly designed to enable an “internet of things” because our things, our watches and shoes, have data that our web services and smartphones can use.

Bluetooth Low Energy, does a more efficient job of saving energy by using a pulsing method that keeps devices connected without chewing up a battery. In fact BLE devices can last years on just a coin cell battery. It also works over shorter distances so it avoids crossed frequencies. So what do companies need to know to start diving into BLE?

How Companies are Reinventing Their Products with BLE

Although BLE and Near Field Communication are often lumped into the same category as short range wireless technologies, the market is actually more prepared for BLE. Bluetooth 4.0 was silently included in the iPhone 4S, and it is also being included in an increasing number of Android phones including the Motorola Droid Razr. According to Bluetooth, by 2012 all new smartphones will be made Bluetooth 4.0 ready.

The Bluetooth company is trying to make it easy for manufacturers to receive what they’re calling Bluetooth Smart Ready certification, requiring only that products be:

…built to Bluetooth v4.0 specifications with GATT-based architecture, feature a dual-mode low energy radio, and allow for the device software to be updated by the consumer. Manufacturers of Bluetooth Smart Ready devices should also provide a way for third parties to create and distribute applications that receive data from Bluetooth devices.

Here’s a look at a few manufacturers who are already building Bluetooth 4.0 products:

Casio

Able to operate for two years on the same battery, Casio’s new G-Shock watch connects to a user’s smartphone to alert them to calls and emails without requiring them to have to reach into their pocket or purse for their phone.

Dayton Industrial

Typically chest strap heart monitors require a special watch that wearers can use to monitor their heart. By using BLE, Dayton Industrial’s new chest strap will be able to pair with any BLE enabled smartphone. This cuts down on the company’s hardware costs and let them leverage the processing power and interface of smartphones.

Have questions about Bluetooth 4.0? Want to find out more about how software development and product development can happen in tandem, or how using the smartphone can extend your product, contact Mutual Mobile.