Generally speaking, most of us think of Bluetooth as a simple, device-to-device to connection used to do things like play music or other audio (speakers/headsets), offer quick notification access (smartwatches), or perform other tasks. But there’s a new Bluetooth standard on the rise, and it allows your web browser to control nearby Bluetooth devices. It’s going to be cool.
This standard, simply called Web Bluetooth, is already a part of the Chrome browser. It’s designed to fit into the “Internet of Things” (I hate that phrase so much), and will make it easy for web designers to interact with users’ peripherals in their homes—should the user allow them to, of course.
Understandably, many users will have security concerns here, so let’s talk about those before we get into some of the things that will make Web Bluetooth super cool.
Right out of the gate, there’s a concern with your browser being able to connect to nearby Bluetooth devices—wondering what sort of information the website can access is a question that needs to be asked. The good news is that, just like with any other API that’s built into browsers like Chrome, each website will have to request access. Your browser will give you a popup asking for permission to let that website access the device in question, just like it does for notifications, location access, or your webcam. If you don’t respond, the request will be automatically denied. Also, you’ll be able to change this permission decision at any time. If you’d like to further explore Web Bluetooth security issues, there’s a great writeup on the subject here.
So what would you use Web Bluetooth for? Really, the possibilities are endless. How about light bulbs that change color according to the weather, all tied to an API from your web browser? Or a website for a new movie that provides an immersive experience by connecting to things like speakers (or again, even light bulbs) in your home? Those are both neat idea.
But there’s also a more practical application here. Many states already allow people to access doctors over the internet with just a webcam, but what if the website could also detect your heart rate via a Bluetooth HR strap (or even smartwatch!) and blood pressure with a Bluetooth monitor? Or a Bluetooth thermometer could automatically send your temperature information to the doctor in real time? This, of course, assumes you actually have all of those peripherals (which many people don’t yet), but still—the idea is there. And I love it. For folks with health issues, these sort of tools could really enhance their quality of life. Access to the best doctors in the country could be little more than a few clicks away. That’s exciting—the idea of no longer being limited to where you live for healthcare could be a game changer.
Web Bluetooth is already a part of Chrome on Android (6.0+), Mac, and Chrome OS, and the development community has been working with the APIs for nearly a year now. It’s still not quite ready for day to day use, but it’s getting closer.
Of course, I need to mention the elephant in the room: Windows and iOS are noticeably absent from that list of compatible devices. A working Windows version of the Web Bluetooth API is in the works and has made progress, but it’s not quite up to the standard of the other models just yet—soon, hopefully.
As for iOS, Apple has to implement the Web Bluetooth standard in Apple’s WebKit before it can be used, since Chrome for iOS is forced to use WebKit. Maybe it’ll be implemented in the upcoming release, but I’ve yet to see anything that declares that one way or another.
Either way, Web Bluetooth is coming, and it’s going to be awesome. It has a lot of very cool potential, and I can’t wait to see what developers do with it as the standard continues to gain more traction.