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Communications Networking Power Hardware

Bluetooth 4.0 Devices To Make the Scene Later This Year 48

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the still-look-like-a-blue-tool dept.
Engadget is reporting that new Bluetooth 4.0 devices could be hitting the scene later this year, and it looks like Bluetooth low energy has been added to the spec. "But don't expect any dramatic changes in battery life for most of your gadgets: while the low energy spec introduces connectivity to a host of lower-power devices that have in the past relied on proprietary technology (such as watches, pedometers, and cats), your traditional Bluetooth devices, such as phones and laptops, will consume roughly the same amount of power. Indeed, the low energy spec is merely throwing smaller devices (with smaller amounts of data to transfer) in to the mix: if you want Trans-Siberian Orchestra to sound as glorious as ever on your wireless headphones, you'll need to push as much data (and hence draw as much power) with version 4 as you would with version 3."
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Bluetooth 4.0 Devices To Make the Scene Later This Year

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  • All of Apple's wireless mice and Bluetooth.

    I think the biggest problem for hardware manufacturers and consumers is that, outside of Apple, Bluetooth often isn't available as an option for most PC buyers. Apple puts it into every laptop and desktop system they sell.

    Joe PC User on the other hand, just wants a mouse and keyboard to work, and when they buy wireless, they expect that it will come with everything they need for a wireless experience. For many years now, manufacturers simply ship with a USB-based dongle.

    Now as to why that USB dongle isn't Bluetooth, my guesses are a) licensing, and b) drivers. Up until somewhat more recently, Bluetooth on Windows was a serious PITA. Official Windows Bluetooth support didn't appear until XP SP2, and prior to that manufacturers of Bluetooth add-ons had to provide their own drivers. Because they couldn't guarantee for some years what SP level you were at, they continued to ship those drivers. Having the manufacturers drivers and SP2 installed simultaneously was a huge mess -- I remember in 2006 helping a friend setup a Bluetooth headset with Skype on XP SP2, and there was a massive and conflicting mess of OEM drivers and Microsoft's stack that would have sent lesser mortals running for the hills (or at least to the store to return their Bluetooth devices).

    Microsoft's late support seems to have driven PC manufacturers to waffle on shipping with built-in Bluetooth, and to try to keep costs down, many still apparently don't (especially outside the portable sector). I've been running Bluetooth mice and keyboards (and other items) for nearly six years now on my Macs -- with standardized support and no driver issues, it's been way easier to sell Bluetooth to the Mac-using public, and that's still the market where you seem to find the majority of consumer-grade Bluetooth devices for PC's aimed towards.

    Yaz.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @07:50PM (#31377100)

    My other issue is more of the tinfoil hat type. BlueTooth has decent security. Pair up two devices (could be as simple as typing in a 4 digit code printed on the bottom of one device into the computer, or just plugging the device in a USB port to charge and exchange pairing info that way), and every piece of information is encrypted.

    With the wireless technologies, who knows if the packets are encrypted. It may not sound like much, but one might not know if someone is just sitting there with a listening device and logging keystrokes. Even a mouse's input can be useful to an attacker. A BlueTooth hard disk sending information could be a jackpot, especially if one could get access to it.

    This is why I wish makers of wireless mice and accessories would standardize on BlueTooth, or at the minimum, have some type of key negotiated during an offline pairing process and the information sent over the air be encrypted. This doesn't even need to be a public/private key exchange. Both devices could just generate a random 256 bit key while they are plugged into each other, and when doing OTA communication, do a DH key exchange, encrypting the process with the pre-shared key, similar to how WPA2-PSK works.

  • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:02PM (#31377190)

    Are there problems with Bluetooth devices which a shopper should be aware of?

    I stopped using a BT mouse on my laptop because it wouldn't always wake up. I *think* it's because I turned off the mouse to save power (instead of just letting it sleep). It'd lose it's pairing credentials and have to negotiate with the OS again. I bought a Logitech mouse and the USB dongle was already permenantly paired to the mouse. Plug in, wait like 2 seconds, then I have a mouse.

    Maybe the mouse just sucked, I dunno. Don't care, either. I'm so sick of tinkering with things like that it's not even funny.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:11PM (#31377244) Journal

    Sounds like the mouse sucked, yes. That's certainly not normal. With good hardware, you have to explicitly hit a button to cause it to repair.

    As for me, I won't buy wireless hardware that isn't Bluetooth. Bluetooth gear, in my experience, works reliably at 20-30 feet on average. Non-bluetooth gear gets jammed by random environmental noise and barely works at a foot or two from the receiver. I've seen this with many, many wireless keyboards and mice from many companies (including the major ones).

    Proprietary communications technology SUCKS. A few bad devices notwithstanding, Bluetooth devices will always be more reliable than proprietary hardware because Bluetooth has hundreds of companies all working together to design the communication protocols and hardware instead of one company hacking something together on their own. When it comes to keyboards, mice, trackballs, etc., if it's not Bluetooth, as far as I'm concerned, it isn't really wireless.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:24AM (#31379482) Journal

    You're grossly underestimating how hard it is to get the physical layer working with sufficient noise immunity. When designing a cheap device, you can't spend a lot of money on R&D. You have two choices:

    • Custom hardware. With custom hardware, you first have to make a reliable physical layer that moves the bits through the air reliably even in the presence of interference. Then, you have to write custom drivers for the transmitter silicon, custom drivers for the device on the other end, and custom firmware for the device.
    • Bluetooth hardware. With bluetooth hardware, the physical layer is basically designed and debugged for you except for the antenna. The drivers for the transmitter are written for you. So you just have to write some very minimal custom firmware for the device to map electrical inputs to buttons and *maybe* write a custom driver for the device if you're doing something particularly unusual (e.g. handlers for extra buttons).

    If your hardware sucks and you can't reliably get a signal through the noise (which has been the case with almost every non-Bluetooth wireless device I've seen), you're pretty much screwed. By contrast, if your firmware sucks in the first rev, it's no big deal. You just flash the thing with new firmware. That's the advantage to using Bluetooth. The hardware layer is already completely designed and debugged for you, so you can focus on the protocol layer above it and get that right instead of having to do that *and* build your own (usually awful) hardware.

    I view these things basically the same way as companies that write custom crypto algorithms. The results are almost invariably worse than if they used off-the-shelf technology underneath and focused on the upper layers instead.

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