December 10, 2013. Ultralow-power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor today announced the development of an end-to-end solution from actual radio hardware to app (software program) source code for smartphones and tablets running either iOS or Android 4.3 and newer.
With Google's integration of native support of Bluetooth low energy in Android 4.3, it is now possible to develop Bluetooth Smart devices that communicate with an Android-based smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or Nexus 5. This news means developers of Bluetooth low energy products and their associated apps can address the largest smartphone market segment with less effort, and the Android Bluetooth low energy picture becomes less fragmented.
nRF Toolbox is a standalone application that also holds the capability of interacting with other Nordic Bluetooth low energy tools as plug-ins. This allows customers to tailor their tool usage to fit the exact needs of their end application. nRF Toolbox can store all Nordic apps in one location, and it supports both the nRF MCP and nRF Logger apps (see below for more details). It also contains applications demonstrating Bluetooth low energy/Bluetooth v4.0 profiles like Heart Rate Monitor, Blood Pressure Monitor, Health Thermometer Monitor, Blood Glucose Monitor, and Proximity. More profiles will be added in the near future.
nRF Toolbox also supports over-the-air Device Firmware Update (DFU), which allows anyone to upload an application image wirelessly. nRF Toolbox is also compatible with Nordic nRF51822 devices that have the S110 SoftDevice and boot loader enabled. “Being able to flash and update the nRF51822 chip with new Bluetooth low energy applications and profiles over-the-air from your smartphone, and then interact with a running application from the same tool, is extremely useful and really highlights how far Nordic has come in providing customers with a complete end-to-end development solution for Bluetooth low energy products and designs,” said Reidar Martin Svendsen, technical product manager at Nordic Semiconductor.
Over-the-air DFU represents a desirable feature requirement for today's wireless products. DFU allows for application bugs to be fixed in the field via updates in a completely transparent way for the consumer. This brings a large degree of security to product makers safe in the knowledge any software fixes or indeed new feature introductions can be completed automatically via cellphone updates that do not require any user interaction.
Nordic's software architecture that cleanly separates Application code from protocol stack plays an important role in how the OTA DFU operates. The protocol stack together with a boot loader can handle the transportation and verification of a new application firmware update. In competing systems where application code and protocol stack are compiled as a single entity, the only way to do this is to reserve enough spare memory to cover both the protocol stack and the application. This can represent an unacceptable memory resource requirement as the SoC needs to facilitate this scratch-pad memory space, which is redundant when not in use during an update.
The Nordic nRF MCP (Master Control Panel) is a generic tool that allows users to scan for Bluetooth low energy devices and communicate with them. It supports a number of Bluetooth SIG-adopted profiles as well as Nordic's own Device DFU profile. With the nRF MCP, developers can interact with Bluetooth low energy peripherals in the same seamless way as they are able to do with the Master Control Panel PC tool.
The nRF Logger allows developers to store and view log sessions from other Nordic nRF apps. Detailed logging and historical organization included in the RF Logger is handy for developers who want to keep track of how their product is evolving. The Nordic app allows developers to share their logs with installed apps on the phone, such as mail clients and cloud storage services. nRF Logger currently only supports the nRF MCP.
These tools enable app and Bluetooth low energy developers to test and verify their applications and products on a smartphone or tablet. “We've spent a lot of time and effort in making these Nordic apps as simple as possible, and keeping the same look and feel between all Nordic Android applications,” concluded Svendsen. “We believe we have the most powerful Bluetooth low energy tools for Android available today, both on Google Play and as source code available on our website.”