There certainly isn’t a shortage of new exciting features added to the new iPad, due out this Friday, March 16, including a retina display that trumps the resolution on any HD television on the market, compatibility with 4G/LTE, 5MP iSight camera, and video capability at 1080p and voice dictation.
The other new features are likely to get a lot more press because of the “wow” factor, but this obscures the real transformational feature, which has now been added in nearly all of Apple’s core products including Apple TV, MacBook Air, iPhone and now the iPad.
Apple has, in very short order mind you, transformed the wireless paradigm totally under the radar, without consumers awareness because its impact will only be felt when the current vacuum for BLE compatible peripheral devices is filled by innovative new consumer device makers, of which very few exist today.
Even before that, there needs to be sufficient supply of BLE chipsets from suppliers such as Texas Instruments, to manufacturer devices at scale and really penetrate the consumer market in any meaningful way, which is at least three to six months out from today.
BLE is so efficient that Wahoo Fitness claims its device can run one to two years without recharging the battery, though, Wahoo’s device is particularly well suited as a fitness product to take advantage of the upgrades that distinguish Bluetooth 4.0 from 3.0.
Interestingly, the power efficiency of BLE is achieved by the design of the protocol to allow low duty cycles, not by changing the fundamental nature of the active radio transport used in traditional Bluetooth 3.0.
In fact, using a BLE device for continuous data transfer would not result in lower power consumption than a comparable Bluetooth device transmitting the same amount of information, and could actually consumer MORE power because the protocol is optimized for small bursts of data transmission.*
Thus, sensors with intermittent use, such as the Wahoo fitness heart rate monitor, or passive sensors that send information based on triggers such as breaching a particular pre-determined threshold, or ambulatory 16-lead ECG for EMS will work best.
There is quite a bit of speculation about what Apple’s next big thing will be, largely driven by the teasing of Steve Jobs biographer Walter Issacson, who has recently said he knows a lot more than he shared and has kept his mouth shut out of respect for Apple and its hyper-secretive culture. Most of the attention has been on the company making an iTV, which would make a lot of sense considering they have nearly $100 billion in cash sitting around collecting dust at less than 1% interest.
Personally, I think it would be better off pioneering new areas of personal computing and content, not obsess over low-margin businesses like television sets. I think the next big thing out of Cupertino may well be their own iLife station. It will look and operate very much like the Qualcomm 2Net, except it will have a whole suite of consumer computing devices (iPhone, MacBook Air, iPad, iTV) all talking to the hub in a large enough portion of American living rooms to make it the most valuable company on the planet. Apple may even take it to the next level with its iLife station and include NFC technology.
NFC inventor and Gentag CEO John Peeters, whom I interviewed recently on the future use of NFC technology by consumers, confidently predicted to me that Apple would be including NFC in its products beginning with the next iPhone in the fall. Google, with its recent acquisition of Motorola Mobility, acquired the patent for NFC (held by John Peeters and Motorola jointly) and once the merger is finalized, I expect to hear a lot more buzz about NFC as Google can begin leveraging its new and improved intellectual property portfolio in the next stage of the war for wireless being waged on the West Coast.
This is a very patient play by Cupertino, but let’s be real for a second: if Steve Jobs left any legacy with his successors that will persist for generations to come, it’s that they will always set the rules of the game and lead from the front. This is the largest company in the world we’re talking about here, so we should expect Google, HP, LG, Samsung, etc., to fall in line in short order. Welcome to the age of Bluetooth 4.0.
Regardless of the immediacy of the opportunity, this is the feature that puts the iPad, and Apple’s entire consumer product suite, into an entirely separate category of device class. The next best tablet on the market by sales, the Kindle Fire, doesn’t even offer Bluetooth, rendering it all but irrelevant in regards to mHealth, making it a two horse race — Google (and companyies running Google’s software on their devices) vs. Apple.
*During radio transmission and reception these devices exhibit peak currents in the tens of milliamps (mA) range in both Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0 nodes. In sleep modes, current consumption can be reduced to tens of nanoamps (nA). The low duty cycles of BLE allow for average currents are therefore in microamps (μA) range enabling button cell battery power sources to last up to a year.