Bluetooth: How it works and why we still need it.

xkcd: Bluetooth

It started 1000 years ago.

Fact: Bluetooth first appeared in Denmark around 950 AD, helping to spread Christianity to Jutland and Zealand, and cementing the rule of a new dynasty across Denmark and Norway. King Harald Bluetooth was the son of Gorm, and ruled in a state of blissful ignorance that his name would be pinched by a team of Ericsson engineers 1000 years later.

The runic-inspired Bluetooth logo

- Bluetooth? It feels like a needy partner. It’s just so much effort compared to what you get back.

- Bluetooth is just a really unsexy technology. Nobody wants to know about it, everybody just wants it to work.

- Come to lunch with the developers, you’ll get hours and hours of Bluetooth related “content”.

And it’s not just misanthropic, sallow-faced developers with an axe to grind against Bluetooth. Judging by the number of venting posts on the net, consumers don’t exactly love it either. But before we all pile in with the hate, it’s worth taking a moment to consider where the technology came from.

Bluetooth in cable form.

Father was a cable.

More mature readers will recall good old serial port cables. Very similar to the more widely recognised VGA cable, serial port cables were for connecting printers, mice and so on, and were also known as RS-232 cables. Bluetooth was basically a wireless version of RS-232. Even today, the kinds of connections possible with Bluetooth remain very similar to the old serial port standard. Sometimes, we haven’t come as far as it seems.

An early Apple supercomputer
Ouch.

Bluetooth, black heart.

Device connection is a major problem for everyone: developers, manufacturers, users. Cables are not a good thing, especially in cars. Gravity has a way of playing hell with them, which leaves wireless connection options. That means our old friend, Bluetooth.

Early-stage drawing board for Chris; soldering irons and Bluetooth chipsets in the foreground

Why we have to hack Bluetooth

Take two key bits of mobile technology: voice and music. On the face of it they both seem pretty similar, but the way they’re implemented in mobile technology is completely different.

Chris in action, courtesy of hacked up Bluetooth

“Hey Chris, send a WhatsApp message to Dad.”

As soon as you say Hey Chris, the device needs to switch from music to voice mode immediately. It’s our job to make this switch happen ASAP — but sometimes the mobile operating system doesn’t comply as fast as we need it to.

Laptop, smartphone, 1000-year-old runic symbol

The future is bright, the future is blue.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Bluetooth is constantly being worked on and iterated. The slightly dubiously named Bluetooth Special Interest Group is in charge of developing the technology. The latest version is Bluetooth 5.0 and compared to its predecessor, the rather slothful sounding Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy, it’s twice as fast, has four times the range and can transfer eight times as much data.

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German Autolabs

German Autolabs

We build logistics voice assistance for mobile workers.