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Summary:

People paid a lot of attention to two new features that arrived in the iPhone 4S: The much-improved camera and Siri, the new voice-powered digital assistant. But the 4S also snuck in another feature upgrade, one that’s a ticking time bomb of potential goodness: Bluetooth 4.0.

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People have paid a lot of attention to two new features that arrived in the iPhone 4S: The much-improved camera and Siri, the new voice-powered digital assistant. But the 4S also snuck in another feature upgrade, one that’s a ticking time bomb of potential goodness: Bluetooth 4.0. The tech is also present in Apple’s most recent Mac mini and MacBook Air releases.

What is Bluetooth 4.0?

It’s the latest incarnation of Bluetooth, the wireless device-to-device technology that allows your phone to talk to headsets, car stereos, keyboards and other devices directly, without the need for a router or shared wireless network. The 4.0 version of the specification (also called Bluetooth Smart) introduces greatly lowered power consumption, thanks to a new way of maintaining a connection between devices without the need for a constant stream of data being transferred between the two.

Bluetooth 4.0 also contains the high-speed data-transfer specifications that were introduced with Bluetooth 3.0, which allows for speeds of up to 25 Mbps. The latest spec is backward-compatible with previous versions, so your iPhone 4S will still work with the Bluetooth 2.0 stereo headset you have, for instance, or with your Apple Wireless Keyboard.

What can Bluetooth 4.0 do for you?

Thus far, not much. Bluetooth 4.0 requires both sending and receiving devices to have the technology on board before it can really start showing benefits for users. As mentioned above, it works fine with devices using older versions of the spec, but it doesn’t get to take advantage of any of its power-saving features with Bluetooth 3.0 or lower.

The big benefit of Bluetooth 4.0 will come from peripherals, much like with Thunderbolt technology. Unlike with Thunderbolt tech, however, consumers can expect Bluetooth 4.0 accessories to launch with price ranges and use cases that are much more palatable to the average consumer. Thunderbolt, like FireWire before it, will at first be a cost-prohibitive high-speed data-transfer tech aimed at film and video pros; Bluetooth 4.0 plants the seed for a wide range of more-consumer-oriented applications.

Input, input, input

Bluetooth 4.0 will be most useful for the new crop of sensor devices coming to market that aim to provide your iPhone or computer with a wealth of external data to help inform special applications. Perfect examples of how the tech might be used include heart rate monitors, GPS sensors and environmentally aware devices, somewhat like the new Nest thermostat.

Such peripherals will be able to be powered much more efficiently than those using previous Bluetooth standards, which will make their promise of being set-and-forget devices more of an attainable reality. Bluetooth 4.0 peripherals powered by simple watch batteries will be able to collect and inform specialized applications on iPhones and other devices, allowing for a smarter and more integral connection between our lives and our devices.

One example of where Bluetooth 4.0 could come in handy is with the smart watch technology that Kevin Tofel has been following so closely. Theoretically, a smart watch using Bluetooth 4.0 would be able to get much more out of limited battery life than existing devices, allowing for a long-lasting connection that doesn’t require much attention from a user. Imagine the battery life of your current quartz wrist watch but with the ability to deliver notifications when your phone receives a text or call.

Whole-home devices

Bluetooth 4.0 paves the way for a future in which your MacBook Air, Mac mini or iPhone can passively monitor and keep abreast of everything going on in your house. Monitor the temperature of that roast you’re cooking, note when your solar array stops receiving direct sunlight, and have your cordless robot vacuum tell you when it needs to hit the charging station: All could be possible through future implementations of a low-power, direct-communication spec like Bluetooth 4.0.

That’s the long-term play that Apple has made with the 4S. Nice to see users get something that could pay dividends much further in the life of their product, rather than just another limitation that becomes a reason to upgrade in a year’s time.

  1. AlbOrz Elvis Heydaryan Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Could this be used for syncing the devices as well?

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  2. How about for AirPlay to a new Apple branded TV?

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  3. Huh? *ANY* Bluetooth device is “direct device to device”.
    Who buys a Bluetooth router????
    Does the author know anything about Bluetooth?

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    …It’s the latest incarnation of Bluetooth, the wireless device-to-device technology that allows your phone to talk to headsets, car stereos, keyboards and other devices directly, without the need for a router or shared wireless network.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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    1. The author is simply defining Bluetooth in general (not Bluetooth 4.0) and differentiating the device-to-device nature of Bluetooth from common, household implementations of TCP/IP. So, your first sentence is entirely correct. The second is assuming the author is proposing that previous incarnations of the Bluetooth spec required a router, which the author does not do.

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  4. Michael Christopher Frazier IV Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    The amount of “news” circulating about apple and relating products/people has become sickening. Great, they added BT4… maybe write about this when there is an actual use for it as opposed to writing about hypothetical uses. Are you going to compare the glass Apple invented to possibly spurring better windshields in cars or lenses on cameras?

    The more you write about nothing in relation to Apple, the more hype is created, the more of a trend this becomes and the greater the fallout Apple receive in the long run when people become burnt out by your garbage “news.”

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    1. Raghu Prodduturi Wednesday, October 26, 2011

      Completely agree. +1

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    2. Because Microsoft has so much more interesting things to write about. NOT.

      This is good to know so that the next time I go to buy a bluetooth headset, I might just want to watch for the 4.0 stamp. This advance would indicate that new Android and WP7 devices as well as most very modern tablets will have this too.

      Your Apple hatred is blinding you to the bigger picture.

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  5. Imagine the battery life of your current quartz wrist watch but with the ability to deliver notifications when your phone receives a text or call.

    But if I have my phone with me–and in close enough proximity to my watch that it can notify it–then why can’t the phone just display it?

    Bluetooth 4.0 essentially competes with ANT. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you (why have both ANT and Bluetooth radios?). But the technology is already around to do this.

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  6. Jahan Ward-Rashid Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Apple just leave people out that have 3gs or iphone 4 by denying them Siri when they are perfectly capable of using Siri. So they Futureproof the hardware but sting you on controlled software….
    Longer life Bluetooth watches and HRM I look forward to though!!

    Sadly it wont be with Apple hardware though!

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    1. “Apple just leave people out that have 3gs or iphone 4 by denying them Siri when they are perfectly capable of using Siri.”

      Wow–that’s so bad! So when did you leave Apple’s engineering team?

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      1. Jahan Ward-Rashid Friday, October 28, 2011

        ok so why isnt it on the ipad 2 then?

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    2. You, nor anyone else, has any idea why Apple left this out of older phones. It might be as simple as their network couldn’t handle all of those iOS devices connecting at once, it could be that once it’s out of Beta it will be too demanding for older devices, it could be marketing as you say, but you really, truly don’t know.

      But do try to imagine the load on their data centre if all iOS devices were to get Siri at the same time. Wow, that would be awful!

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      1. WURD!! Andre gets the golden apple :)

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      2. Really? And what happens when the jailbreaking community ports SIRI to older devices? Which by the way has already occured. I am sure Apple considered this when they denyied access to SIRI by older devices as much as they wanted it to be a selling point for the 4s.

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  7. Yeah.. BT 4.0 sounds like good news, except that it just doesnt work!

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  8. I just bought iPhone 4s and I am not able to pair with any Bluetooth device. I do not have any indication if Bluetooth on the phone is working or not as there is no icon to indicate that.
    The other problem I am unable to synch this phone with my Mac Pro. My main reason for buying iPhone was that I had some difficulties with synching with android mobile.

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    1. For Bluetooth: On the iPhone, go to Settings => General => Bluetooth, where there’s a toggle to turn it off and on. When on, the Bluetooth icon shows up just to the left of the battery icon. You then pair it with your Bluetooth device as per that device’s instructions.

      With the Mac, you sync via iTunes. Launch iTunes and make sure it’s up to date. Then connect the iPhone to the Mac with the supplied USB cable. When the iPhone icon appears in the sidebar, click on it and set up your options tab by tab. This is where you can also update iOS for the iPhone.

      If the icon doesn’t appear, that suggests a cable issue or a hack gone wrong and I can’t really help you with that one. Good luck.

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  9. I’d just like to see apple’s bluetooth implementation work. I’ve had and seen so many bluetooth compatibility issues with iphones and the technology is years old already. Bluetooth devices should connect and function, that’s the whole point of the standard.

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  10. I cant use bluetooth of my IPHONE 4s to connect to my other phones or my laptop
    so whats the use of it?

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