Developers considering Bluetooth connectivity for their next project might want to look at Zilog's latest offering. The Zilog Mini-Z ZPAN module incorporates an MCU with an 802.15 (Bluetooth) personal area network operating in the 2402 MHz to 2480 MHz range.
The RF subsystem, from Roving Networks, is a self-contained networking device with antenna and protocol stacks. The MCU simply needs to send and receive commands and data via a serial interface. The MCU subsystem comes preprogrammed with a boot loader and a command shell interface that lets you exercise the device using a terminal. You can load compiled code through the serial port to the device, making it fairly easy to work with. In fact, Zilog touts the device as being designed for engineers, hobbyists, and students to be able to quickly develop prototypes, perform experiments, and the like.
The company has taken an interesting approach in its design of the module. They have made it pin-compatible with the Parallax Basic Stamp (BS2) and the Basic Micro BASIC Atom Pro 28-M module families. This compatibility allows the module with its Bluetooth connectivity to function in existing board designs originally created for one of these popular experimenter modules. The ZPAN module's cost ($79.95) is in line with these modules, as well.
Note, that the ZPAN has pin compatibility but not the same form factor, which may create a problem for some users. The RF subsystem, which hangs off of the ZPAN module at one end, and the serial connector, which hangs off the other end, could interfere with other components on some board designs.
For those still considering which wireless connectivity option to choose, the ZPAN's appearance gives developers a choice. Zilog already offers a pin-compatible WLAN module that has the same MCU and pinouts as the ZPAN, but incorporates an 802.11b/g TCP/IP WiFi subsystem. Thus, you can develop a prototype system based on the module and try out both wireless connectivity options before reaching a final decision.
You might even delay the final connectivity choice all the way to the point of field installation, so you can choose based on the deployment environment. So, what might you do with a design that could go either Bluetooth or WiFi?