Bluetooth Le Device – One of the main features of the Bluetooth 4 specification is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This technology, also called Bluetooth Smart, allows peripheral devices to communicate with much less energy than conventional Bluetooth. Another big advantage is that the user does not have to manually familiarize himself with the device using the system settings. This article serves as a quick introduction to BLE and shows how to build iOS that connects to a BLE peripheral.
Bluetooth Low Energy is also short for BLE. To clarify, the Bluetooth 4 specification defines a set of technologies that include the classic Bluetooth protocols, Bluetooth High Speed and Bluetooth Low Energy. So be careful when checking peripheral compatibility with BLE.
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A BLE peripheral can be identified if it contains the terms “Bluetooth smart”, “Bluetooth Low Energy” or “BLE” in its specifications.
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A central unit is a device that connects to external devices to read or write data that is exposed to external devices. The central unit is the device that initiates the connection with the peripheral devices.
In the client/server model, the central office can be understood as the client, and the peripheral devices as the server.
Some devices can act as central external devices at the same time. iOS and Mac devices are such examples.
The GATT protocol specifies how a switchboard can communicate with connected external devices. First, the data structure is defined as follows:
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Let’s take an example: a heart rate monitor is a BLE peripheral that has a speed profile that has 2 services: a heart rate service and a device information service. Heart services define a reading function that provides a measured heart rate. It also defines a write property for the location of the sensor on the body. Device information services contain features about model, firmware version, etc. device.
Each feature and service is defined by a unique identifier called a UUID. There are predefined UUIDs for many services and features. You can find the list here: https://vvv.bluetooth.com/specifications/gatt/services and https://vvv.bluetooth.com/specifications/gatt/characteristics. Of course, you can define your own UUID for your services and features. You are also under no obligation to reuse predefined UUIDs. Official BLE UUIDs are 16-bit, and custom BLE UUIDs are 128-bit. They are generally represented in hexadecimal. For example, the heartbeat service UUID is 0x180D.
This section describes some typical BLE use cases. Other use cases are also possible, but we will describe the most common ones.
BLE Scan Application: This use case describes a situation where you want to discover and test any BLE peripheral in the environment.
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This method of use is simpler and requires user intervention only at the first connection. Applications that manage specific BLE hardware follow this usage pattern. For example, we have the official MI Band app. The application we will develop at the end of this article will follow this use case.
Knowing this, if you currently have a Mac and an iPhone or iPad, there’s a good chance you can start coding some BLE apps right away.
When developing an application that communicates with other hardware using BLE, you should first ask these three questions:
First, the answer to the first question allows to decide which type of BLE device the application will implement. If the device we are communicating with is central, then the application will act as a peripheral unit. On the other hand, if the device we want to communicate with is a peripheral, then our application will be the central device.
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Second, clearly defining services and functions in advance allows the application to communicate smoothly and correctly with the BLE device. Without it, it will be like blind communication.
After all, when developing BLE applications, choosing the framework that suits you best is very important. The first most important reason for me is that we need to do a lot of asynchronous tasks before exchanging the first bytes. Second, an association can fail for many reasons. Therefore, choosing a framework that facilitates these tasks is very important.
Since the project I was working on supports iOS 10 and is written in Swift 3, I chose Blue Cap without hesitation :). In the next section, we’ll create a simple core application that communicates with peripherals simulated on a Mac using Bleno.
First, we will simulate the peripheral with a Mac computer. However, you can use external devices if you want
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External BLE devices can be simulated using a Mac using a variety of techniques. The first thing that comes to mind is to create a Core Bluetooth Mac application that uses the peripheral role. There is also a node.js module called bleno (https://github.com/sandeepmistri/bleno) that allows for rapid implementation of BLE peripherals. In this article we will use bleno. Here’s how to get started quickly:
You’ve just turned your Mac into a BLE peripheral that advertises the “echo” service using UUID EC00. You can check this in the main.js file:
When we connect to a Mac, there will be a function with UUID “ec0e” with read, write and notify properties. This is defined in the characteristic.js file, which also defines how read, write, and notify properties are handled.
Now that we have a fully functional peripheral. Let’s develop a small iOS application that communicates with this peripheral.
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The central application will be simple. It looks for devices that advertise “echo” services and then connects to the first device it finds. Then the application will allow us to read and write the “ec0e” function. Here are the steps required to initialize the project:
We will add the BlueCap iOS framework https://github.com/troistribling/BlueCap when the project is finished. You can add different boxes, I’ll let you choose the one that suits you best :). Don’t forget to add BlueCapKit as a built-in library!.
Then add the core capability in the project properties. To do this, enable background modes and check “Use Bluetooth LE accessories”.
Our playbook contains a single ViewController that displays a loading indicator while scanning for the function we want to use. When we expose a function, the ViewController exposes a view that allows the function to be read and written.
Bluetooth® Low Energy Technology
This article is a brief introduction to Bluetooth Low Energy. It is a Bluetooth standard that enables communication with reduced energy consumption and without the need for pairing in the system settings. We’ve illustrated a core Bluetooth implementation in iOS that connects to a peripheral simulated on a Mac.
There are several things we can do with BLE. For example, we can write our own application for a smart belt. We can also, for example, equip an Arduino with a BLE chip and do funny things with it.
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