Will Your Bluetooth Smartphone Soon be Obsolete?

10 Nov 2014
by John Foley

shutterstock_197368307The 15+ year-old Bluetooth standard, central to the development of local wireless devices, has come into its own via smartphones and wireless headsets. But with similar concepts hitting the market, Bluetooth may soon find itself incomparable to these shiny new systems.

So, what does that mean? Is Bluetooth really going to take the backseat?

Bluetooth Contenders

Currently, there are two attention-drawing alternatives to Bluetooth. It was bound to happen; tech changes every second and 15 years is a long time to hold the short distance wireless crown. Curious Bluetooth-centered manufacturers are paying close attention to these developments, which means consumers should, too. Why? Well, if the primary technology shifts, millions of Bluetooth-capable smartphones could become outdated.

Near Field Communications (NFC)

Like Bluetooth, NFC is a short range technology that enables devices to communicate without wires. Apple stirred the pot by announcing it would be using NFC for iPhones; however, there is a drawback: NFC currently only works in close range. Maximum range is just a few centimeters.

Thus far, Apple has restricted the NFC chip to the new no-touch payment protocol, Apple Pay. Will NFC be developed further, used more widely and gain extended reach? With projects in the lurch, many developers hope so. But an Apple endorsement could signify a big change down the road.

Investors, seeing the possibilities of NFC for close-range wireless data sharing—whether at the ATM machine or the grocery store checkout stand—are rallying around NFC-based stocks. Transparency Market Research predicts a nearly 44 percent increase in the market—to more than $20 billion—by 2018.

Wi-Fi Direct

This shining star is gaining traction. In 2011, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus was the first Android device to include a Wi-Fi Direct API for developers. Then, Microsoft added the capability to its recently released Xbox One. The switch has many Playstation 4 users buzzing that Sony will respond to the challenge and enable Wi-Fi Direct on its next system rather than continue using Bluetooth for the DUALSHOCK line of controllers.

This specification isn’t bothered by the limited range of NFC and it tops Bluetooth’s max 23 Mbps speed by pumping out a relatively blazing 250 Mbps. To top it off, Samsung—citing speed and convenience—announced a line of laser wireless printers that are both NFC and Wi-Fi Direct-compatible but not Bluetooth.

Is Bluetooth a Goner?

Is Bluetooth on the way out? Should we go ahead and get out the shovel? Not so fast. Unwilling to go down without a fight, Bluetooth still has its advantages; Wi-Fi Direct may be faster, but Bluetooth requires less power.

Pushing it further, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced v4.1 in December of 2013. Benefits cited include:

  • Better coexistence without interference when multiple cell phones are in proximity
  • Easier connections and re-connections
  • Smart technology for the bulk transfer of data

Especially active on the Bluetooth horizon is the rising popularity of smart home technology, allowing families to control everything from security to lighting and heating from one Bluetooth-enabled application.

The bottom line: Each short range wireless system has its benefits, its areas of excellence and its champions, so we will likely see manufacturers begin following Samsung’s example and combining all three in order to capitalize on all the benefits each has to offer.

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