18
Apr
170px-Bluetooth.svg

For quite some time, we've been hearing about the potential advantages of the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) spec, and a seemingly endless list of gadgets that could benefit from it. Unfortunately, while many modern flagship devices are equipped with the necessary hardware, Google has allowed the Android OS to languish without official support for the standard. Most of the top OEMs have built their own proprietary versions for the energy efficient protocol, but until now, only Motorola has freely shared access to its API. However, that changes today: Samsung is taking its BLE SDK public.

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Since building their own custom frameworks, both HTC and Samsung have required developers to submit applications for access to the SDKs. This procedure isn't unheard of for medium-to-large software companies, but it is very unconventional for solo developers and hobbyists. A possible reason for this practice may have been to give Google an opportunity to launch an official API for Android, or it could have simply been about collecting a list of potential partners.

HTC would appear to be the sole OEM remaining with a partners-only policy, but the Taiwanese manufacturer may have already planned a public release in the coming weeks. A session scheduled for AnDevCon in May titled "BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) Is Finally Here for Android!" is featuring an HTC representative, Dario Laverde, and technical aspects of building for the company's implementation. This is far from conclusive proof, but it makes for pretty good odds. While these releases are generally a good thing for developers aiming to interface with gadgets like the Pebble smartwatch or the Amiigo fitness bracelet, it also carries the burden of forcing app makers to support each OEM separately. Once Google adds its own official API to Android, devs will be expected to support no less than 4 separate variants.

Of course, most people would agree that support for the Low Energy profile is already very late to the party since Apple has had the feature starting with the iPhone 4S, launched 18 months ago. It's possible the delay may be attributed to the long-planned replacement of the Bluetooth stack in Android 4.2, but that only excuses some of the wait. I'm sure Google is well aware of the demand.

As a reminder, both Samsung and HTC label their SDKs as beta, so some things are liable to change. If you would like to start integrating Samsung BLE connectivity into your app, hit the links below for details.

Samsung Developer Portal

Cody Toombs
Cody is a Software Engineer and Writer with a mildly overwhelming obsession with smartphones and the mobile world. If he’s been pulled away from the computer for any length of time, you might find him talking about cocktails and movies, sometimes resulting in the consumption of both.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tim.glaser Tim Glaser

    It seems, from my perspective that Google has 1 dude working on all Bluetooth issues for all of Android, and for that dude it's just one of many other things he works on and it's his last priority.

    Bluetooth on Android is pretty embarrassingly [for Google] bad.

    Not supporting metadata over bluetooth, and all the sound quality problems that happened with JB.

    It's disappointing. I would be very unlikely to buy an iPhone, but it's things like this that make me think some elements of the iPhone are very very desirable, and make me consider what it would be like to use an iPhone. If they launch a reasonable size iPhone device this year, and actually update the OS a bit now that Sir Ive is in charge, iOS would be a more compelling product.

    • basteagow

      While I'd never consider jumping ship for Bluetooth (or anything for that matter), I do often feel envious of other platforms that have enjoyed a modern Bluetooth implementation for years. Hell, even the ancient BlackBerry my company gave me two years ago—a basic model with no 3G or even GPS—supported AVRCP 1.3 (metadata) out of the box.

      Compared to BlackBerry and the Bluetooth specification in general, Apple was also late to the game (by several years). But late is better than never, and with no fragmentation, most app developers (e.g. Spotify) have implemented iOS's updated Bluetooth API by now.

      On Android, support for AVRCP 1.3 has so far been up to individual manufacturers (and third-party ROMs such as CyanogenMod) providing custom implementations. And even though my old SGS2 did support metadata, Google Music was the only app that took advantage of it. People have been trying to get Rdio, Spotify and friends to support this for ages, but developers are too afraid to invest any amount of time in supporting something that Google clearly couldn't care less about.

      The most infuriating aspect is that this is a feature that can be enabled via software, there are third-party ROMs that have it working well, and there are unofficial patches for music apps that implement it at the app level—with five or so lines of code. What, then, is Google FREAKING WAITING FOR?

    • itlnstln

      As much as I love Android I would jump ship to iOS if Google continues to not deliver basic functionality like Bluetooth. While I love all the advanced functionality of having a rooted, Android device, I really get more utility out of the basic functionality day-to-day.

  • Zak Taccardi

    "It's possible the delay may be attributed to the long-planned replacement of the Bluetooth stack in Android 4.2"

    Are you saying the bluetooth stack WAS replaced in Android 4.2? Or that it's going to be?

    Also, isn't bluetooth mostly broken in Android 4.2?

    • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

      It's already replaced. And like everything that is built from scratch, things break.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      Here's the quote from Google: http://developer.android.com/about/versions/jelly-bean.html

      Android 4.2 introduces a new Bluetooth stack optimized for use with Android devices. The new Bluetooth stack developed in collaboration between Google and Broadcom replaces the stack based on BlueZ and provides improved compatibility and reliability.

      I've read a few reasons for this, but they all track back to the same basic issue: the BlueZ stack was kind of a dead end for enabling many of these newer features. Android 4.2 definitely has some issues with Bluetooth, and that's a part of what 4.2.2 was intended to fix. But, like @twitter-102472941:disqus said, it's completely brand new and prone to having a lot of issues. It's not like Apple is the only company that has trouble replacing a technology that already works (ahh, Maps, an endless source of humor).

      I wouldn't be surprised if Bluetooth is called out specifically at I/O this year, if for no other reason than Google apologizing and telling everybody that it's better in the new version.

      • http://profiles.google.com/tim.glaser Tim Glaser

        That would be huge, and I really really hope they do that. I expect, however, that they will continue to ignore it.

        As almost all reviewers of Android phones do btw.

        When was the last time you read a review of a device that called out Google for the lack of Bluetooth support?

        • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

          True enough, device reviews rarely travel to specific Bluetooth support... But, that's largely because the worst hit device was the Nexus 7 and it was 5 months old by the time 4.2 was pushed to it. However, there were still a stream of complaints about Bluetooth performance, enough that it circulated the general blog space (CNet, Verge, etc.) and I'm sure the people at Google know it needs some level of attention. After all, somebody thought it was important enough to change the Bluetooth stack in the first place, so it must have come up in discussion at some stage.

          I'm remaining optimistic on this one, mostly because the Broadcom stack is so new. I'm sure there is a bug tracker somewhere in Google HQ with a metric ton of reported issues that somebody is working to turn over, and with roughly 6 months of near silence, there must be something more substantial coming.

        • Floss

          So is every reviewer supposed to complain about a OS issue for every hardware release? Seems kind of silly to me.

          • http://profiles.google.com/tim.glaser Tim Glaser

            It's a function on the phone that I think most people will expect to work. The fact that it doesn't is very odd to me, and the fact that no one who reviews the phone is saying 'hey, this aspect of bluetooth doesn't work, or works poorly, or whatever' is something that, yes, I think reviewers should do.

          • Floss

            This specific part of the bluetooth spec is a function that most people don't even know exists, let alone works.

        • s44

          Since Glass is going to interface over Bluetooth, Google has an internal reason to address it now.

          • http://profiles.google.com/tim.glaser Tim Glaser

            This is a good point, and I hope you're right. :D

  • http://lukeskaff.com/ LukeDukem

    I have been very frustrated with Google's lack of Bluetooth 4.0 support. I have Bluetooth 4.0 fitness equipment that I can not use. I find it crazy that Google's flagship devices have Bluetooth 4.0 hardware but no software support.

  • Gustavo Gomez

    yeah.. it is stupid from all the players involve in Android. I have called BT4.0 Iphone developers and they don't care to develop for android until one standard is unified. Samsung, HTC, and Moto should have taken a business attempt to do something about it.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      ^ This.

      Would love to see a bit of collaboration. Even if they didn't, how about the Bluetooth Special Interest Group? There are a few options here, any one of them could have stepped up and made this a completely trivial subject.

  • Matthew Fry

    Made by Nokia in 2006. Nobody cares till 2012.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathon.roberts.50 Jonathon Roberts

    So what devices from samsung actually have Android 4.2? (S3 hopefully) I'm betting that custom ROMs won't actually have the new software on the device.

    • Alexander Lenz

      Hopefully the S3 will get it soon...

  • http://www.facebook.com/YallaYalla Yalla Tschikowski

    This just proves: Bluetooth is a mess since 4.2. Some things are broken, playback and controls are sometimes buggy as hell - and we didnt really get added fuctionality

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      I'm not about to defend 4.2 on the basis of Bluetooth quality (or NFC for that matter). It definitely took a hit to stability and performance. However, there were good reasons for tearing out the old code, which should ultimately improve quality in the future.

      Think of it as replacing a mobile home with the foundation and basic skeleton for a house. We may have lost some of the comfort for a while, but we could never have upgraded without it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/YallaYalla Yalla Tschikowski

        Still i would want to keep on living in a working mobile home until my house is finished - and I dont feel like I live in a construction Site.