Ina Fried

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Android Quietly Commits to Better Support for Bluetooth

At nearly three and a half hours, you’d think Google would have been able to get all the news into its I/O keynote address on Wednesday.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 6.02.56 PM

But a few announcements missed the cut.

One of the more interesting was a commitment by Google to support advanced Bluetooth natively in its Android operating system. Google had supported basic Bluetooth for specific things like keyboards and headphones, but had yet to build in support for the latest version of the wireless technology.

The new move opens up opportunities for a range of new accessories, including very low-power devices.

“I think that opportunity is actually going to be huge,” said Steve Hegenderfer, director of developer relations for the group that oversees the Bluetooth specification. Hegenderfer said that Bluetooth devices have gotten so small that the batteries are sometimes the largest component.

But with support for low energy, Hegenderfer said he expects a wave of devices to hit the market in the next year that are powered by kinetic energy — basically, the energy created by a body in motion.

Google’s move will allow those developing such devices for iOS to offer the same products more easily on Android.

Apple already supports the latest version of Bluetooth, as does BlackBerry with BlackBerry 10 and Microsoft with Windows 8 (though not, as yet, with Windows Phone 8).

The lack of Android support has been a sore spot for developers because it makes an already fragmented hardware landscape even more challenging. Nearly all the devices shipping today have chips that support the latest version of Bluetooth, but until Google’s move, developers didn’t have a unified way to call on the Bluetooth functions.

Instead, developers had to tweak their code not only for particular versions of Android but also based on which Bluetooth chip was in use.

While Google announced its plans on Wednesday, support for the new Bluetooth won’t come immediately. It is due to arrive in a month or two, with the next update to the Android programming interfaces.

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