Are Bluetooth headsets relevant anymore? Just a few years ago, early adopters were sporting them much the same way they’re now chasing Google Glass and Coin unified credit cards. At $99, Jawbone is trying to distance itself from the stigma it has acquired of clunky earpieces. To do it, it’s integrating two-way communication between the device and the phone in ways it hasn’t in the past: proper voice control allows users to talk to the device from the headset – and be spoken to by Google Now and Siri – for everything the smartphone is capable of including directions, appointments, text messages, etc. The idea is to keep the phone in the users’ pockets, and to control the device with already-accepted voice commands; in other words, to turn the headset into a piece of efficient, wearable tech. And, at the size of a piece of gum, it’s not going to be as jarring to wear as, say, a pair of glasses that force you to look up and to the right. It’s also noise-cancelling, ensuring that if you want to listen to music, you can. As the public becomes increasingly comfortable with voice control as a mechanism for interfacing with technology, the ultra-simplistic, minimal interface of the Jawbone might just resurface.
Apple is flipping the switch on its iBeacon Bluetooth Low Energy sensors across its 254 US stores today. It’s the largest deployment of the technology into stores, and it will only work if you have the Apple Store app and have given it permission to track you. When you walk into the store, the app will go into “In-Store mode,” and it will let you know about deals in the areas around you. Ultimately, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before; we’ll just have to wait and see how consumers react, and whether the technology actually drives sales. For now, it’s still a shiny toy.
After several attempts, Jawbone is finally putting out a Bluetooth-based piece of fitness tracking hardware: the Up24. Jawbone has previously refused to put out Bluetooth devices because of both battery life and physical constraints, but upon the wider acceptance of Bluetooth Low Energy, Jawbone has finally warmed to the idea of a BLE device. Now, whether it’s too little too late for Jawbone – who risked falling behind to competitors FitBit – will have to be seen in the sales of the product this holiday season.
Nike has unveiled its latest wearable-fitness piece, the Fuelband SE. Though it looks very similar to its predecessors, it comes with different accent colors. The devil is always in the details, and the SE is no different. According to Nike, there’s some new “fine-tuning” baked into the device, which fundamentally alters how your Fuel is tracked. It can identify actual movement better, it can give you hourly reminders about when to work out, it features improved weather sealing and double-tap features, as well as Bluetooth 4.0. The iOS app has an overhaul too, to help users make the most out of every day. The Fuel Curve shows hourly movements, and gets as granular as five minute intervals with dynamic info. Nike has also restarted its Accelerator program in San Francisco, and is aiming to bring more third party apps and products to the Fuel ecosystem. The band will be available on November 6th, for $149.
In another big development on the “Internet-of-Things” front, startup Gecko purports to “make your smartphone smarter.” The idea is that the device – a quarter-sized square – connects to your smartphone via low-energy Bluetooth to help monitor the things to which the Gecko is adjoined. The idea is that you tag items you’d like to monitor with Bluetooth, and based on accelerometers and gesture controls, the smartphone acts as a universal control. The device itself comes with a year’s worth of battery life, as well as a buzzer and LED light for alerts. Tag your front door for alerts about when it’s opened or closed; tag a box of pills to keep track of when you take your medication; tag your pet so you know how far it’s gone. It’s a powerful pairing, if it leaves its current Indiegogo funding phase.
Bluetooth Low Energy has a lot of potential to change the way our mobile devices interact with the environment around us, and applications of the technology for device tracking are only the tip of the iceberg. Tile, a startup that crowd funded $2.7 million for a Bluetooth Low Energy-based device-tracking chip, was proof of the viability of a concept now being adopted by Nokia for its Lumia phones in the form of a “Treasure Tag.” The Treasure Tag uses a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy and NFC technology used for mobile wallets to track whatever the tag is attached to, like a set of keys, from an app on the phone. The process also works in reverse, allowing the user to press a button on the tag to trigger a sound on the phone, so long as it’s within about 160 feet. Battery life is a concern with these devices, as Treasure Tag only lasts about 6 months (Tile advertises a 12 month lifespan), but the technology could have us all spending a lot less time hunting for our keys.
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