Two months after Apple joined the board of the Bluetooth special interest group, the company launched the first truly mainstream Bluetooth 4.0 devices in the world yesterday, namely the new Macbook Air & Mac Mini 2011 edition.
The products came only one year after its official core specifications were adopted and it looks likely that Apple fast-tracked Bluetooth 4.0's adoption so that the forthcoming iPhone 5 can use this technology with at least one Apple product, which could mean that the manufacturer is considering giving up on NFC altogether.
Indeed, Apple chose to bypass Bluetooth v3.0 + HS altogether and move from the four year old v2.1 + EDR (as used on current Apple products like the iPhone 4 and the Macbook Pro range circa 2011) to Bluetooth 4.0, becoming the first manufacturer to do so.
The core feature of Bluetooth 4.0 is its "Bluetooth Low Energy" or BLE technology, which allows Bluetooth devices to communicate at around half the peak power consumption of the "classic" Bluetooth (down to one hundredth depending on usage), and is designed from the ground up to be used in devices powered by small, coin-cell batteries.
Other characteristics include a much longer range (up to 200m), 128-bit AES with Counter Mode CBC-MAC and application layer user defined security, a 6ms latency (compared to up to 100ms for the Classic Bluetooth).
The weak point of BLE though remains its transfer rate which is as low as one tenth of the full fat Bluetooth. But Bluetooth 4.0 offers the possibility to toggle between low power or high power modes, just like changing CPU speed in mains mode or battery mode.
BLE compares positively with other industry groups' standards in that it doesn't require any additional infrastructure, and we suspect that it could even be used to rival NFC (Near Field Communication).
Just like Thunderbolt, Apple could singlehandedly decide to pioneer that technology against all the odds, as the rest of the competition (Google, Nokia, Samsung) has already embraced NFC. Rather than using two separate chips, one for NFC and the other for traditional Bluetooth, Apple may use only one; the same also applies for initiating higher speed connections for heavier traffic. This more elegant solution would save space, decrease power usage and allow peripheral partners to slash their time-to-market.