What's Bluetooth? [iOS A-Z)

Daily definition: A is for AirPlay

B is for Bluetooth, a wireless technology that lets your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad talk to headsets, keyboards, speakers, computers, and other accessories

If you're new to iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad and are wondering just what exactly Bluetooth is and what it means to you, worry not -- iMore has you covered. Bluetooth is an open standard wireless communications protocol, which just means that it's a commonly available way for devices to talk to each other, and to other electronics, without having to be plugged in together. The most common things iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users do with Bluetooth include connecting to headsets and speakers.

Bluetooth works over short-wave radio (between 2400 and 2480 MHz if you're techie) and has a range of about 30 feet. If you move further away than that, say leave your iPhone in your car and go into a store, you'll lose connection.

There are several different Bluetooth profiles, each of which enables its own type of functionality. iOS doesn't support all Bluetooth profiles, but it does support several important ones.

  • HFP 1.5, the hands-free profile for connecting to hands-free headsets and speakerphones
  • PBAP, the phone book access profile to allow for car kits to download contacts or display caller information (iPhone only).
  • A2DP, the advanced audio distribution profile, which enables higher-quality audio, including stereo audio, to be sent to remote speakers
  • AVRCP, the audio/video remote control profile, that lets pause, play, stop, next track, and previous track commands to be sent to headsets and speakers
  • HID, the human interface device profile, or the protocol that connects to a wireless keyboard.
  • PAN, the personal area network profile, which lets you tether to a computer and share your cellular internet connection. (Part of the Personal Hotspot system.)

Most previous iOS devices, including iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch support up to Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (enhanced data rate). EDR allows for faster data transfers, meaning smoother, better sound support and internet speeds (between 2 and 3mbps).

Bluetooth 4.0, a newer specification is supported by the iPhone 4S and will presumably be supported by future devices like the iPad 3. Bluetooth 4.0 allows for BHS (Bluetooth high speed) and BLE (Bluetooth low energy), which aim to provide better, faster data with lower battery drain.

There are very few Bluetooth 4.0 accessories available yet, for example the Find My Car Smarter. However, Bluetooth 4.0 offers the potential for more ubiquitous, persistent, and useful peripherals than ever before.

Want to know more? Check out more of our iOS A-Z words-of-the-day, or jump ahead to our complete iPhone and iPad glossary for the full on dictionary list!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

What's Bluetooth? [iOS A-Z)

3 Comments

In my Palm days, when Palm was Palm, I went into my cell store, and asked if they had any Bluetooth phones. I was told that will never catch on. I told him I needed one to talk to my Palm device to search the web. He looked at me like I was nuts. We have come a long way since then.

The thing that annoys me most, I find the Bluetooth feature on iDevices useless when you can't even do a simple task of sending pictures and videos to other devices (including ios devices!) via bluetooth. I don't even think I can send pictures back and forth to my macbook with Bluetooth, but I could easily with my old crappy BB Storm2 phone.

7 years ago when I was sending ringtones from my Blackjack 2 to my friend's phone via Bluetooth, I was thinking this technology was going to be huge...For playing music wirelesssly, transferring files etc. It really hasn't taken off like I thought. Except for the headset and car communications, its underutilized IMO.