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If you take a peek into the future, it’s hard not to envision an always-on society that features a multitude of connected devices that work in unison to make your life more convenient. We’re currently not quite there yet – the main reason being the availability (or lack thereof) and the power consumption of an always-on connection between devices.

From the convenience of digital wallets 8 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Digital Wallets 8 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Digital Wallets Digital wallets are billed in most tech circles as the future of real-world payment technologies. Read More , to the entirely connected home What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] It seems like there are new buzzwords popping up and dying off with each day that passes us by, and "the Internet of Things" just happens to be one of the more recent ideas that... Read More ; having a secure, reliable, and efficient way to transmit data is truly the last piece to the always-on puzzle.

With two relatively new specifications — Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct — we’ve put some of these concerns to rest.

While you’ve almost undoubtedly heard of one or both of these technologies, it’s probably time to explore the differences so that we’re better informed when it comes to having to make a choice. Now, while it’s being billed in some circles of the web as a sort of connectivity format war, I’m actually more convinced that we’ll be using bits and pieces from both as opposed to one specification truly “winning.”

Let’s take a look at these specifications, and what they can bring to the table.

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Bluetooth 4.0

We’ve written about Bluetooth 4.0 and its benefits How Bluetooth 4.0 Is Shaping the Future of Mobile Connectivity How Bluetooth 4.0 Is Shaping the Future of Mobile Connectivity Bluetooth is the forgotten star on the device specifications sheet. Read More before, but for a quick refresher, let’s discuss just what it is, and what early adopters are hoping it becomes.

First of all, it’s important to understand that the power of Bluetooth far exceeds that of the gaudy ear-piece (do you still need one The Beginner's Guide To Buying The Right Bluetooth Headset The Beginner's Guide To Buying The Right Bluetooth Headset The dirty little secret to buying the perfect Bluetooth headset is that there is no "perfect" headset. Read More ?) and that the current Bluetooth 4.0 standard is actually three different protocols; Classic Bluetooth, Bluetooth High Speed and Bluetooth Low Energy.

The true purpose of Bluetooth 4.0 is found when discovering just what it can accomplish using a low-energy signal to broadcast from device to device – or beacon to device – without depleting the battery of your mobile phone, tablet or wearable. In essence, it’s an always-on signal that beams back and forth between devices in order to quickly – and without using much power – communicate between devices.

The idea behind Bluetooth 4.0 is to conserve battery life while maintaining an always-on environment by remaining dormant unless data is being shared. Once a device is paired, the connection remains active only while in use, a feature that wasn’t available in previous generations of Bluetooth technology due to difficulty in pairing and connecting some Bluetooth-ready devices.

For example, if you want to share a photo between two phones via Bluetooth, the connection becomes active while the transfer begins. After completion, Bluetooth goes back into “standby” mode, meaning it won’t use power when it’s not needed.

Another example that is being thrown around is in the mobile payments (or cash withdrawal) realm. A consumer enables Bluetooth to transfer funds between their digital wallet account and a beacon-based payment processor (don’t confuse it with NFC payments Everything You Need to Know about Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay Everything You Need to Know about Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay Android Pay, Samsung Pay, Apple Pay all have their advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look at exactly how each of them works and who can use them. Read More ). While the two devices communicate, the phone experiences minimal battery loss. Once the transfer is complete, Bluetooth once again enters stand-by mode.

In addition to decreases in battery usage, Bluetooth 4.0 is fast. I mean, really fast. By using the 802.11ac protocol you can actually transfer data at speeds of up to 24Mbit/s. This feature is carried over from v3.0, but unlike version 3.0, these transfer speeds are now standards as opposed to only working with devices with the “+HS” logo. Now, any device that supports Bluetooth 4.0 stands to benefit greatly from faster transmission of data.

wifi-direct

Wi-Fi Direct

Wi-Fi Direct WiFi Direct: Windows Wireless File Transfer That's Faster Than Bluetooth WiFi Direct: Windows Wireless File Transfer That's Faster Than Bluetooth Wireless data sharing from a Windows 8 computer to another device comes with its challenges. With Bluetooth and WiFi Direct we tested two popular and widely available solutions. This is what we found... Read More is the chief competitor to Bluetooth 4.0. In days past, users relied on an aging device-to-device (ad hoc, and other wireless networking terms you should know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Read More ) transfer method that significantly slowed speeds and caused more than a few headaches when trying to connect two devices. With Wi-Fi Direct, you can now establish a direct, peer-to-peer wireless connection without the assistance of a router. Additionally, the difficulties faced when trying to connect devices is a thing of the past, as Wi-Fi Direct includes a painless discovery tool that makes it easy to find, and connect with nearby devices.

While ease of use is one of the biggest benefits of Wi-Fi Direct, the ability to communicate without the need for a third device – in this case, a router – effectively turns each device into an access point and allows other Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect with it. Where ad hoc networks failed in slow transmission of data, Wi-Fi Direct succeeds by offering theoretical caps of 250Mbps.

If you think that all of this sounds remarkably similar to Bluetooth 4.0, you’re definitely not wrong. The competition is fierce, and both standards tout a lot of the same functionality. So, which one is better? Let’s take a closer look.

Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct Compared.

Speed

No brainer here. Wi-Fi Direct offers speeds of up to 250Mbps while Bluetooth 4.0 lags behind at a paltry-seeming 25Mbps. While I’m somewhat skeptical that it’ll come close to the touted maximum speed, there’s no doubt it’s significantly faster than the current Bluetooth High Speed standard.

Since Wi-Fi Direct offers such amazing speeds, it’s an ideal choice for streaming options such as AirPlay AirPlay vs Bluetooth Speakers: Which Do You Actually Need? AirPlay vs Bluetooth Speakers: Which Do You Actually Need? If you're an audiophile with a Mac or an iPhone, you've probably considered getting some wireless speakers and have been faced with the question: AirPlay or Bluetooth? Read More and Miracast. Both are essentially ways to harness the power of these faster-than-ever connections to transmit from anything from YouTube videos to browsing activities from mobile devices to larger screens without the need for connecting the device.

Winner: Wi-Fi Direct

Range

Wi-Fi Direct has a stated maximum distance of more than 600 feet. Again, these are stated maximums which are typically not indicative of a maximum range under real world conditions. That said, even if the range were half the stated maximum, that’s still pretty impressive and well within the reach of device-to-device connection in even the largest homes.

Bluetooth 4.0, on the other hand, has a maximum range that’s device-dependent. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has, however, stated that we should expect distances of at least 200 feet.

Since most of us would rely on the technology mostly within our own home (to connect to printers, multimedia, or other mobile devices) both specifications are well within the range we’d need to successfully complete these tasks. Due to that, and the fact that we’re still not quite sure what the max range on Bluetooth is, we’re going to call this one a tie (for now).

Winner: Tie

Security

Both specifications tout security as one of their main benefits. Bluetooth 4.0 uses AES 128-bit encryption to protect your data as it is transmitted between devices. Wi-Fi Direct, on the other hand, uses WPA2 security, and its AES 256-bit encryption.

The winner is clear, but it should be stated that even Bluetooth 4.0 is remarkably secure. I wrote a more in-depth piece on encryption How Does Encryption Work, and Is It Really Safe? How Does Encryption Work, and Is It Really Safe? Read More a while back, but for those encryption novices amongst us, don’t be caught up in numbers. Cracking even an AES 128-bit encryption by brute force would still take over a billion billion (yes, billion billion) years with current computational power, making it theoretically unbreakable.

Winner: Wi-Fi Direct, although both are more than adequate in terms of security.

Backwards Compatibility

Both devices are remarkably backwards compatible. That is to say, both are fully capable of connecting with devices that precede the releases of the current technology. Bluetooth 4.0 is compatible with any of the older Bluetooth specifications, and Wi-Fi Direct can connect to any older wireless protocol.

Winner: Tie

Power Consumption

Since both specifications are touted as “low energy” and expected to help fuel innovation in the always on society we live in, power consumption is important. I’d argue that it could be the most important aspect which determines the winner. Until current mobile battery technology improves, we can’t be expected to utilize anything that significantly depletes the life of a battery.

Wi-Fi Direct is said to extend battery life by anywhere from 15 to 40 percent depending on factors such as file size, Wi-Fi protocol, range and device type.

Bluetooth 4.0 has the more impressive of the two technologies as Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) is said to allow a battery to run for a year or more before it’s fully depleted. That said, additional factors within your device will contribute to battery drain, so this may not be fully accurate, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

A number of cool technologies currently make use of Bluetooth LE. One of these is TrackR, which is a small coin-sized device that attaches to just about anything and lets you track the item using TrackR’s Distance Indicator in order to find it. Lost keys, missing sunglasses, or that hard-to-find wallet or purse might just be a thing of the past.

Other technologies, like Knock, aim to eliminate the need for passwords by allowing you to unlock your devices only when your mobile phone is nearby. Once installed, the iOS app allows Mac users to tap twice in order to log in to securely log in to a password-protected computer.

Winner: Bluetooth 4.0

The Winner

While Wi-Fi Direct exceeds Bluetooth 4.0 in so many ways, in my opinion, it falls short where it really matters, battery life. Now, that’s not to say Bluetooth is going to win this debate of always-on connectivity, or that it’s any better than Wi-Fi Direct, but if battery life is your primary concern then there’s a clear-cut winner.

That said, both technologies have their benefits. Depending on your intended use, you can make an argument for either specification.

Do you currently own a device that uses Bluetooth 4.0 or Wi-Fi Direct? What do you like or dislike about it? Which of the two specifications would you like to see gain widespread adoption?

Image Credit: Bluetooth combo wordmark via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Marcus Wallace
    November 10, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Bryan Clark states wifi direct has a range of OVER 600 feet, then says bluetooth 4 has a range of about 200 feet. then says lets call this a tie.

    NO !

    lets not call it a tie, bluetooth got beat down 3 times over, how is that a tie ?

    this whole "article" was nothing but Bryan Clark pissing on the users.

  2. lasse øksbro
    May 22, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Wifi direct for security
    wifi direct for speed

  3. Marco Russi
    February 3, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    They are not direct competitors. Each one is more suitable for some specific applications than the other one. Anyway, in this comparison the maybe most important thing is missing... COST

  4. Rafael Feliciano
    July 13, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    This really isn't a fair comparison between the two. Bluetooth LE and Bluetooth Classic are only similar in name. The protocols between LE and Classic are very much different. While Bluetooth LE offers significant power savings, Classic by comparison is very power hungry. Also, the Bluetooth LE protocol is a very low data rate. It is not suitable for streaming of high quality audio, let alone video. Comparing Bluetooth LE and WiFi-direct seems a little ridiculous, since they aim to address different problems.

  5. Rehab Engineering
    July 13, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    The Roku3 uses Wifi-Direct to communicate to the remote. I was interested in what this
    new "Roku" network in my house was so I googled it. The forums are just alive with paranoia and people calling it a "hotspot' thinking their networks are compromised. Some even return the Roku3 in exasperation of this "hotspot" and are screaming about how to turn it off. Obviously the standards are not understood and products need to be clear about this sort of technology in more obvious terms.

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