Android provides built-in platform support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in the central role and provides APIs that apps can use to discover devices, query for services, and transmit information.
Common use cases include the following:
- Transferring small amounts of data between nearby devices.
- Interacting with proximity sensors to give users a customized experience based on their current location.
In contrast to classic Bluetooth, BLE is designed for significantly lower power consumption. This allows apps to communicate with BLE devices that have stricter power requirements, such as proximity sensors, heart rate monitors, and fitness devices.
Caution: When a user pairs their device with another device using BLE, the data that's communicated between the two devices is accessible to all apps on the user's device.
For this reason, if your app captures sensitive data, you should implement app-layer security to protect the privacy of that data.
For BLE-enabled devices to transmit data between each other, they must first
form a channel of communication. Use of the Bluetooth LE APIs requires you to
declare several permissions
in your manifest file. Once your app has permission to use Bluetooth, your app
needs to access the
BluetoothAdapter and determine if Bluetooth is available
on the device. If Bluetooth is
available, the device will scan for nearby BLE
devices. Once a device is
found, the capabilities of the BLE device are discovered by connecting to the
GATT server on the BLE
device. Once a
connection is made, data can be transferred with the connected
device based on the available
services and characteristics.
Key terms and concepts
The following is a summary of key BLE terms and concepts:
- Generic Attribute Profile (GATT)
- The GATT profile is a general specification for sending and receiving short pieces of data known as "attributes" over a BLE link. All current BLE application profiles are based on GATT. Review the Android BluetoothLeGatt sample on GitHub to learn more.
- The Bluetooth SIG defines many profiles for BLE devices. A profile is a specification for how a device works in a particular application. Note that a device can implement more than one profile. For example, a device could contain a heart rate monitor and a battery level detector.
- Attribute Protocol (ATT)
- GATT is built on top of the Attribute Protocol (ATT). This is also referred to as GATT/ATT. ATT is optimized to run on BLE devices. To this end, it uses as few bytes as possible. Each attribute is uniquely identified by a Universally Unique Identifier (UUID), which is a standardized 128-bit format for a string ID used to uniquely identify information. The attributes transported by ATT are formatted as characteristics and services.
- A characteristic contains a single value and 0-n descriptors that describe the characteristic's value. A characteristic can be thought of as a type, analogous to a class.
- Descriptors are defined attributes that describe a characteristic value. For example, a descriptor might specify a human-readable description, an acceptable range for a characteristic's value, or a unit of measure that is specific to a characteristic's value.
- A service is a collection of characteristics. For example, you could have a service called "Heart Rate Monitor" that includes characteristics such as "heart rate measurement." You can find a list of existing GATT-based profiles and services on bluetooth.org.
Roles and responsibilities
The following roles and responsibilities apply when a device interacts with a BLE device:
Central versus peripheral. This applies to the BLE connection itself. The device in the central role scans, looking for advertisement, and the device in the peripheral role makes the advertisement.
GATT server versus GATT client. This determines how two devices talk to each other once they've established the connection. To understand the distinction, imagine that you have an Android phone and an activity tracker that is a BLE device. The phone supports the central role; the activity tracker supports the peripheral role. To establish a BLE connection you need one of each—two things that only support peripheral couldn't talk to each other, nor could two things that only support central.
Once the phone and the activity tracker have established a connection, they start transferring GATT metadata to one another. Depending on the kind of data they transfer, one or the other might act as the server. For example, if the activity tracker wants to report sensor data to the phone, it might make sense for the activity tracker to act as the server. If the activity tracker wants to receive updates from the phone, then it might make sense for the phone to act as the server.
In the example used in this topic, the app (running on an Android device) is
the GATT client. The app gets data from the GATT server, which is a BLE heart
rate monitor that supports the Heart Rate
You could alternatively design your app to play the GATT server role. See