Wahoo Fitness gives sneak peak of new BlueHR–Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap

Smart logoToday Wahoo Fitness gave  a sneak peak at the first Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap – BlueHR.  What’s Bluetooth Smart you ask?  Well, it’s basically Bluetooth Low Energy renamed, which used to be known as both BTLE and BLE.  Bluetooth Smart is only offered on Bluetooth 4.0 devices – which is still relatively new (last few months).

So what is Bluetooth Smart?  Well, it’s actually a lot like ANT+, a low energy technology that allows Bluetooth devices to run off of limited battery requirements.  This is ideal for your typical sports technology sensor like a heart rate strap or footpod, where you want the battery to last a year of normal use.  Again – just like an ANT+ sensor today.  This differs from traditional Bluetooth devices that you may have, such as in a wireless headset, primarily because those devices aren’t designed to last long periods of time on a single battery.  They tend to only last a few hours.

The challenge was up until a few weeks ago, there were really no Bluetooth 4.0 devices that were widely available.  But with the introduction of the iPhone 4s, that door has been sprung open.  And thus in the course of just a few weeks the install base of Bluetooth 4.0 compliant devices has gone from zero to…well…millions.

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So what’s so important about the new Wahoo Fitness Bluetooth Smart strap?  Well, it’s important in a number of ways.  The most obvious is that it’s the first Bluetooth Smart sensor device out there.  Sorta like ‘early bird catches the worm’, the first Bluetooth Smart device will undoubtedly be used by a larger number of folks (at least initially), simply because it’s the only choice.

In a lot of ways, this now signals the start of a sensor battle between ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart.  And while there’s little disagreement that Bluetooth Smart will quickly have a larger cell phone install base than ANT+ enabled cell phones, ANT+ already has a pre-existing install base of tens of millions of ANT+ chips out there today in devices that you’re using – like Garmin watches.

Now, there are some things about Bluetooth Smart that make it slightly more…problematic…than ANT+ from a sport sensor standpoint.  See, today on ANT+ when you grab a cadence sensor – they all know how to talk on the ANT+ cadence sensor (CAD) Device Profile, which is effectively a structure for exactly how any ANT+ cadence sensor works.  This is why you can take a Timex, Garmin, CycleOps, Wahoo, or any other branded ANT+ sensor and it’ll work with any other ANT+ head unit or watch.  Same goes for any apps that use ANT+, as long as the app can support the baseline ANT+ protocol they need only add a given device profile (i.e. Cadence or Power Meter), and it’ll instantly support  all ANT+ devices out there.

But in the case of Bluetooth Smart devices – that device profile/protocol roadmap doesn’t exist with the exception of just the heart rate profile/protocol.  This means that there’s no device profile standard on how a cadence sensor unit should or would communicate to a device and/or phone.  This means that Wahoo could implement it one way, Polar a different way, and Timex another way.  Thus, ultimately making your life more difficult.image

And the same applies to other sensor types down the road.  Yes, it’ll open up the door to sensor types to be rapidly created – in fact, it creates a bit of a wild west of possibilities.  But there will undoubtedly be some compatibility problems and consumer confusion.

But, while there may be confusion – there’ll be an astounding array of devices that are compliant with it.  For example, today it’s just basically the iPhone 4s…but soon (next week) – you’ll have the new Motorola MOTOACTV sports watch.  And just around the corner you’ll see Bluetooth 4.0 as standard on phones too.  I would be surprised if you’re finding new phones next year that don’t have BT 4.0 on them.  And the same goes for computers and laptops.  Today only the MacBook Air and Mini have it –but going forward, it’ll become standard on the computing front as well.

So what does this all look like to you, the end consumer?  Honestly, not much different.

And to prove that – here’s a quick video that the Wahoo guys shot yesterday showing you that from your perspective with pairing a heart rate strap with an iPhone 4s.  There’s nothing more to do than you do today on your Garmin ANT+ strap:

New Wahoo Fitness strap demo

The strap should be available before the end of the year, for about $80.

And finally – where does ANT+ sit in all this?  Well today they dominate the sports technology arena – and customers and companies using ANT+ are largely happy.  It’s an interoperable system that’s completely plug and play.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  What I do see changing is that devices will simply be multi-mode.  They’ll support both ANT+ and Bluetooth.  There are dual-mode chips out there today that allow them to do just this, and we’re seeing that already.  This enables a company – like what Motorola is doing with the MOTOACTV – to bridge across any devices you have, from ANT+ to Bluetooth.  It’s really the best of both worlds.

And as for Wahoo – they’re most certainly not going away from ANT+ products.  They noted that they continue to be “a huge proponent of ANT+ and will continue to develop new ANT+ products”.  So fear not – lots of cool innovation coming there.

I’m looking forward to trying out the new Wahoo strap here very shortly, I’ve been told I’m just about at the top of the list to get one.  And, as Wahoo said themselves – “This is just the beginning of their new Bluetooth Smart product offerings…” – and having seen what’s coming…it’s pretty darn cool.

Really cool.

Thanks for reading!

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12 Comments

  1. Hi Ray. Aside from the obvious, what are some of the key the differences between ANT+ and BTLE? Can BTLE transmit through water?

    Reply
  2. I see new chips(Nordic and TI)arriving with both Ant+ and BLE and so my question is does the Wahoo strap has Ant+ onboard?

    Reply
  3. Hey Patrick-
    Molly here, from Wahoo. The Blue HR does NOT have ANT+ on board. Just Bluetooth Smart (aka BLE, BT 4.0, BTLE). But we’re always working on the next best thing… so stay tuned!

    Reply
  4. Thanx WahooMolly for this quick reply. I got interested in this new development because of the Zephyr BioHarness™ that uses normal bluetooth.
    I see the potential of Bluetooth Smart because of the lack of Ant+ support in new phones. So keep up the good work and I will be waiting

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    does it by any chance work underwater? I’d love that

    Reply
  6. Hey L8apez and Anonymous-
    Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ both run on 2.4 GHz radio waves, which won’t work underwater. So unfortunately, no HR monitor that runs on either of these protocols will transmit underwater, including the Blue HR. But the it is waterproof up to 5 feet!

    Thanks and let me know if you have any other questions :)

    -Wahoo Molly

    Reply
  7. Just what I need!

    Available when!?!?!?!?!

    Reply
  8. And does it work with runkeeper?

    Reply
  9. Matt

    Any chance Wahoo will make a Bluetooth Smart adapter for older iPhone models? I’m looking to get a HR monitor to use with Runkeeper on my iPhone 4 and would rather get one that will still be supported when I upgrade (most likely after the next revision from Apple).

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Instead of coming out with new BT 4.0 why doesn’t the Bluetooth group work on making BT 2.1 (or 3.0) work reliably? BT should Just Work and be everywhere. Instead about the only thing it works well with is sound, and then only _most_ of the time and often only between appliances (phone to headset). It is not reliable for keyboards, mice, OBD2, handsfree, or any of the other low data rate and shorter range devices you would like to wirelessly connect to your electronics and Just Work without thinking about it, and is even less so for multiple or simultaneous connections. ANT+ works – painlessly, with no frustration, with simultaneous sensors, in a crowded environment. Unfortunately BT has name recognition and so the frustration will now manifest itself in the sports arena.

    Reply
  11. CStenbeck- It will work with RunKeeper! We’re still waiting on final shipping dates, but we’re hoping in the next several weeks. If you want the latest and greatest, join our Wahoo Blue mailing list and we’ll keep you posted (link to wahoofitness.com)

    Matt- Not in the near future. We weren’t sure that the 4S was going to have Bluetooth Smart so we were waiting to see what happened. It would require several months of development and testing so unfortunately that’s not in the short term pipeline. Check out our blog post for some more info on BTSmart and how we’re looking to leverage it in the future: link to wahoofitness.com

    Thanks!
    Wahoo Molly

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    Will the BTLE HRM have iOS restrictions similar to those applicable to BT 2.1? I hope that the power consumption efficiencies of BTLE make the BlueHR similar/superior to the ANT+ version. Thanks

    Reply

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