Notes on “Make: Bluetooth” by Allan, Coleman, and Mistry

As a part of a Humble Bundle package of books published by Maker Media, I had the chance to read through Make: Bluetooth (*) by Alasdair Allan, Don Coleman & Sandeep Mistry. This book covers a series of projects that can be built by the Make audience: by assembling development breakout boards and discrete components on prototype breadboards.

One of the first things this book covers is that these projects all use Bluetooth LE and not “Classic” Bluetooth. They share two things: (1) they both communicate over 2.4GHz range of RF spectrum, and (2) they are both administered by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Other than that, they are completely different wireless communication protocols named for maximum customer confusion.

For each project, this book provides a detailed step-by-step guide from beginning to end, covering just what we need for each project. This is both the book’s greatest strength and leads to my biggest criticism. Minimizing extraneous information not pertinent to the current project avoids confusing beginners, but if that beginner wants to advance beyond being a beginner, this book doesn’t provide much information to guide their future study. This problem gets worse as the book ages, because we’re not given the background information necessary to adapt. (The book is copyrighted 2016, this post is written in 2022.)

The first example is the Bluetooth LE module they used for most of the book: Adafruit product #1697, Bluefruit LE – Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE 4.0) – nRF8001 Breakout. The book never covers why this particular BLE module was chosen. What if we can’t get one and need to find a substitute? We’re not just talking about a global chip shortage. It’s been years since the book was written and Adafruit has discontinued product #1697. Fortunately, Adafruit is cool, and added a link to their replacement products built around the nRF51822 chip. But if Adafruit hadn’t done that, the reader would have been up a creek trying to figure out a suitable replacement.

Another example was the phone interaction side of this book, which is built using Adobe PhoneGap to produce apps for either iOS or Android phones. And guess what, Adobe has discontinued that product as well. While most of the codebase is also available in the open-source counterpart Apache Cordova, Adobe’s withdrawal from the project means a big cut of funding and support. A web search for Apache Cordova will return many links titled “Is Apache Cordova Dead?” Clearly the sentiment is not optimistic.

The Bluetooth LE protocol at the heart of every project in this book was given similarly superficial coverage. There were mentions of approved official BLE characteristics, and that we are free to define our own characteristic UUID. But nothing about how to find existing BLE characteristics, nor rules on defining our own UUID. This was in line with the simplified style of the rest of the book, but at least we have a “Further Reading” section at the back of the book pointing to two books:

  1. Getting Started with Bluetooth Low Energy (*) by Townsend, Cufí, Akiba, and Davidson.
  2. Bluetooth Low Energy: The Developer’s Handbook (*) by Heydon

I like the idea of a curated step-by-step guide to building projects with Bluetooth LE, but when details are out of date and there’s nothing to help the reader adapt, such a guide is not useful. I decided not to spend the time and money to build any of these projects.

(*) Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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