Sometimes the roadmap for the future is directly present in the technology of today. In the case of Google, its latest update to Android could portend a future where your smartphone or tablet becomes the centerpiece in a whole ecosystem of gadgets.

Look at the specifics of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Google’s latest version of its popular operating system has some nominal features for publishers and users like the new Digital Rights Management functions and restricted profiles for multiple users. But the real signs show that Android could become the hub of a whole world of devices, from wearables like smartwatches to Google Glass to smart homes and television sets.

Google has done this before with Android, seeding features that show the promise of things to come. With Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google made it easier for developers to develop towards a wide array of screen sizes from smartphones to tablets to big-screen TVs. 

Jelly Bean 4.3 will take that a step further.

What is Bluetooth Smart?

One of the most overlooked trends in technology this year is the adoption of Bluetooth Smart (also known as BLE—Bluetooth Low Energy) by major technology platforms. Apple (from the iPhone 4S and on), Microsoft and BlackBerry already has integrated BLE in their mobile operating system updates and now Google has followed with Android 4.3.

Bluetooth Low Energy is a part of the Bluetooth 4.0 standard introduced into the Bluetooth Core Specification 4.0 in 2010. The capability was actually created by Nokia in 2006 before being rolled into the official Bluetooth standard. It is not backwards-compatible with older versions of Bluetooth (called “Classic”) but many of today’s newer smartphones are designated as Bluetooth Smart Ready, meaning that they can be used in dual-mode between the older and newer standards.

Bluetooth Low Energy allows for similar wireless connection capability and range (about 160 feet) as Classic Bluetooth but operates at significantly improved efficiency. It not only allows for a data connection between devices but also the ability to send rich data between devices. This is where it gets interesting for the future of wearable devices.

What’s New In Android 4.3?

Google’s newest version of Android supports Bluetooth Smart Ready hardware as well as a standard called Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3 that supports “richer interactions with remote streaming media devices,” according to the Android developer site. For app developers, these capabilities will only be available in Android API Level 18, which represents 4.3 Jelly Bean. The AVRCP 1.3 standard is what many automobiles use these days to connect smartphones to in-car media systems and allow them to display metadata like song and artist names for audio streaming applications.

Google smartwatch patent Google smartwatch patent

The connection between an Android device and a Bluetooth Low Energy device is defined as central and peripheral. The central device is the smartphone or tablet while the accessory (like a smartwatch, fitness tracker or Google Glass) is defined as the peripheral. This relationship is governed by the Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) that is standard in the BLE specification.

The BLE institution in Android 4.3 is fairly generic as it relates to how other platforms use the standard. What Google did with Android 4.3 was also add a new “Notification Access” feature into the operating system that will allow for new interactions for users in the status bar. For instance, a message that goes to the Android status bar can automatically be pushed to a peripheral device through BLE and include multimedia data. 

The Smartphone As Hub Device

Why is important? Well, BLE allows for the transfer of metadata and read/write functions between devices while using a fraction of the power. That means that users will be able to connect a smartwatch or another peripheral and play music, read messages or even watch videos. The tablet or smartphone is the hub with the data connection that connects it to the rest of the Internet. The central hub can then transfer data to basically any peripheral device that connects to it.

It is in this way that Bluetooth Low Energy makes a true device ecosystem plausible. For devices like the forthcoming wave of smartwatches, the primary concern is battery use and power efficiency. If a smartwatch doesn’t employ its own data connection (which would be nice but not necessary), then it can last a lot longer on your wrist by flowing data through the smartphone using the efficient BLE standard. Same goes for Google Glass. 

Essentially, Bluetooth Smart is the key to making the wearable device industry possible. It will also be a boon to the smart home and smart car sectors. Google knows this as well as Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry do and has built the capabilities into Android 4.3 Jelly Bean that will make it possible in the near future.