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Bluetooth goes 3D with Apple

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Apple has joined the board of the Bluetooth SIG, signing up for a standard that's looking away from high speed networking to exploit 3D TV and the Wellness industry instead.

Along with Apple comes Nordic Semiconductor, bringing ultra-low-power experience to the board of the Special Interest Group, but it's Apple's membership which is most interesting. The standard increasingly focuses on televisions and home automation as well as getting into the rapidly expanding industry of Wellness.

Announcing the new appointments, Mike Foley, executive director of the SIG, admitted that plans for high-speed Bluetooth (using WiMedia or similar) are now on hold while the standard focuses on low-power and home-automation applications. In the short term that means TV remote controls and 3D spectacles; in the longer term Bluetooth has high hopes for heart rate monitors and the like.

Wellness is what we used to call healthcare, but you can only sell healthcare to ill people so now we're expected to call it wellness instead. The idea is to convince aging baby boomers that more electronics can help them live longer, and as the wireless industry is largely run by aging baby boomers they having a vested interest in believing that.

The Bluetooth SIG reckons its Low Power derivative is ideal for that kind of thing, and recently approved a pair of standard profiles for heart rate and body temperature monitoring - a sign of things to come.

But televisions are the next big hope for Bluetooth, which has always coveted the living-room position occupied by infrared technology. Some 3D specs are already using Bluetooth for synchronisation, but today that's with a proprietary protocol - later this year the SIG promises a standard that will make 3D specs work across manufacturers.

The same thing is promised for remote control, which should enable control of a telly from a smartphone as well as a Bluetooth-enabled remote. The utility of IR is hard to beat, and Bluetooth's arguments about line of sight have never cut much ice with users who can generally see the television they want to control.

Bluetooth can also stream audio, and pictures (video would be pushing it), and unlike the DLNA standard Bluetooth mandates minimum codecs to ensure compatibility (though quality improves if both ends of a connection support better encoding),

Nokia's first devices which use NFC for Bluetooth pairing are out. That makes streaming audio over Bluetooth, or pairing a theoretical remote control, as easy as tapping a phone on the top of the TV, which should appeal to the most technically illiterate.

Historically Apple has always been decidedly lukewarm about Bluetooth, failing to support the stereo music protocol in the iPod and holding back on HCI drives for the iPad (which now enable the use of a proper keyboard, if not (yet) a mouse).

We don't know which aspect of Bluetooth has now got Cupertino so excited, but it should be interesting to find out. ®

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