MADISON, Wis. -- Lately, I notice, the world is overrun with smart products and smart technologies. Smartphones, smart TV, smart cards, smart homes, the smart grid, smartwatches, the Smart car, smart buildings -- you name it. It’s hard to think of a new big thing that doesn’t call itself smart. Now, the smart trend has crept into a technology standard: Bluetooth Smart.
I don’t begrudge marketing people doing their jobs. I’m all for companies coming up with a more memorable name for their products than a jumble of numbers and letters that reads like a vehicle ID. But calling every new development smart is a trend in today’s market that invokes Orwell. As we dumb down technologies and think nothing of doing it, we call them all smart.
Worse, those who call themselves smart seem to assume that they now have a get-out-of-jail-free card absolving them from skepticism, when they claim by sheer assertion the right to be called smart by everyone living on the "Smarter Planet," because smart is their brand.
I feel like I’m on the wrong side of the argument, because this train has already left the station. But let’s take a minute and think about what makes a product or technology worthy of being called smart. I can’t be sure, but I suspect smart cards and smartphones are the ones that defined -- early on -- the product category smart.
What made both categories smarter than previous product generations were, I think, the integration of more powerful embedded microprocessors and connectivity. Along with these came the ability to run on an operating system and run apps.
I’m not certain if these general rules apply to every so-called smart product. Certainly, smart TV and smartwatches fall under that definition. But Smart cars and Smarter Planet are just brand names.
Now, what about calling Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) “Bluetooth Smart?” Look closely and all you see is branding. After an interview with representatives of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) earlier this week, I received an email from the Bluetooth SIG spokeswoman, who writes:
When [a SIG representative] says Bluetooth low energy, he is referring to the feature within Bluetooth Smart. The correct way to refer to Bluetooth Low Energy, BLE, Bluetooth LE, etc. is Bluetooth Smart.
Again this is because low energy is just a feature not the entire technology. By not using Bluetooth Smart, the compatibility and intelligent connection of the technology is lost. Bluetooth low energy is just a part of Bluetooth Smart -- it is an important part, but it isn’t really what is making all of these things (like the connected smart car) possible. It is a perfect mix of the low energy feature and the smart connectivity -- thus Bluetooth Smart. For more information, visit http://www.bluetooth.com/Pages/Bluetooth-Smart.aspx and see the below.
Again, I have nothing against Bluetooth’s marketing machine wanting to rebrand Bluetooth Low Energy as Bluetooth Smart. It’s probably a smart move -- as far as marketing is concerned.
But here’s the thing. I’m a reporter trained to write for the engineering crowd. In my mind, Bluetooth Low Energy conveys much more clarity. It describes what the thing actually does.
Now, what I didn’t know until this week is that when people refer to the old Bluetooth spec, they appear to call it Classic Bluetooth, like Coke Classic.
To complicate the matter further, we’re also expected to distinguish between Bluetooth Smart devices and Bluetooth Smart Ready devices. Bluetooth Smart devices feature a single-mode low-energy radio. Bluetooth Smart Ready devices, according to the Bluetooth SIG FAQ, “efficiently receive data sent from Classic Bluetooth devices and Bluetooth Smart devices and feed it into applications that turn the data into useful information.”
Translation? It’s a dual-mode supporting both Bluetooth Low Energy and Classic Bluetooth.
I could feel the pains everyone in the industry is taking to make the general public understand what all those different specs mean.
Which brings me back to my original question: By calling Bluetooth Low Energy “Bluetooth Smart,” has the industry done a service to all the engineering work engineers put into it? I think not.
Here’s one more argument. Calling the technical standard smart seems to dilute the impact of the spec’s next innovative leap forward. What do we call the new version of Bluetooth Smart? Bluetooth Smarter?
Maybe, but wouldn’t that make Bluetooth Smart sound less smart than it actually is?
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times