Bluetooth is a wireless communication standard that allows direct wireless connections between several devices over a short range of currently around 30 yards. In laymen’s terms, it beams data back and forth between two devices with radio waves. Working in the 2.4-2.5 GHz frequency range, it's used to connect a variety of different equipment directly to each other. Devices that use Bluetooth include headsets, printers, computers, keyboards, speakers, and even things you might not expect devices like cars. Ford Sync is an excellent example of a car technology that is built on Bluetooth.
While it is a very widespread technology its lack of power efficiency has always been a major drawback on small devices. While it might not be the biggest draw of power on a phone, if you were to put it into something like a wrist watch the effect is drastic. Your watch would suddenly require a rechargeable battery that would be completely drained before a full week was up.
Better, Smaller, and More Efficient
There are several changes in the new Bluetooth standard. The radio can be physically smaller, it has a greater range of around 50 yards, and it can be used in both a single or dual mode. Both modes operate in the same frequency range as the classic Bluetooth, but in single mode it exclusively uses the new Bluetooth Low Energy protocol.
This new energy standard allows the technology to function at below 15 milliamps while the previous ones used greater than 30 mA. Using our earlier example of a watch, instead of recharging your battery every week you would only need to change out a regular battery once a year, or two years if you’re actively using data transfer for 8 hours per day or less.
Due to the focus on low power consumption, using this new protocol for voice, music, or any other data intensive purpose is not possible. However, a new "dual mode" incorporates the radio technology for the low energy protocol into the updated standard circuitry enabling larger devices like phones and computers to operate in the way that suits the situation best while not increasing the size necessary to do so.
Real World Examples
It can be difficult to fully grasp the changes that using a lower power version of the technology can do, so let me show you by using some examples.
The Casio Bluetooth watch that was displayed at the last CES was one of the first products announced with this technology. Designed to work with Android phones, it can forge an electronic tether between the devices for a constant stream of updated information from your phone to your watch. It can perform tasks that you would expect like automatically updating the time or showing you the call display when you receive a phone call, text or email. Alternately if you are within 15 feet of your phone or if the virtual tether is broken between devices, the phone can make an audible tone helping you locate it.
With its 128-bit AES encryption it can be used for security or automation purposes. Your watch could now be your employee identification letting you into secure buildings, or it could unlock your Bluetooth enabled personal computer. It could also be used for health or safety purposes. Pedometers with exceptionally long life could make it easier to track a healthy lifestyle, or if used in a small monitoring device, specifically something with an accelerometer, it could automatically send an emergency signal in case of a fall.