Dialog's latest Bluetooth chip is only 2.5mm square and half a millimetre thick, but boasts an embedded processor from ARM and a battery life of more than four years from a button cell.
Anyone considering a smart wristwatch or fitness-monitoring wristband will be pleased to hear that Dialog Semiconductor has created a really tiny Bluetooth chip ideally suited to such applications.
The company is trying to brand the new chip SmartBond but can't help using the less-media-friendly DA14580 when discussing the technical achievements involved in getting a Bluetooth stack into such diminutive dimensions. That size knocks power consumption down below 4mA when transmitting and receiving, and 600nA when on standby - a state in which Bluetooth Smart devices are expected to spend most of their time.
That four-year battery life is based on a 225mAh button cell powering a device sending 20 bytes of data a second; imagine an exercise wristband or shoe-mounted pedometer, which (Dialog informs us) would be limited to a couple of years using Bluetooth hardware from its competitors.
SmartBond isn’t really a Bluetooth chip; it's an entire system, more comparable to a network card than a processor. The idea is to offload the radio processing into the embedded ARM allowing the device into which it's fitted perform other tasks.
The idea that Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) will push the standard into the Internet of Things is an article of faith these days, along with the belief that 50 billion Things will need connectivity over the next decade. There's some serious competition to provide all the necessary chips.
But what Bluetooth really wants is to crush the last stronghold of its one-time competitor - Infrared. Way back in mobile computing IR was a standard feature, enabling early adopters to beam business cards between devices of the same type, and even tethering internet connections over IRDA-enabled cellphones which had to be shaded from the interfering sunshine.
Bluetooth put a stop to all that. Yet just when it looked like it was all over, the IR ports have started reappearing on mobile devices for controlling the TV, a segment where Bluetooth never managed to gain any traction.
Bluetooth is getting into some TVs now for synchronising 3D specs, but it's not powered up when the TV is off; thus, early Bluetooth remotes have an IR port too. Admittedly it's just to send the "switch on" command, but it's a start.
Dialog's chip is available in sample quantities now and will go into full-blown production later this year, so it will be a few years before it makes smart watches slimmer and smart shoes smarter, and finally ousts IR from the scene. ®