Remember Bluetooth? That standard that many expected to be crushed by WiFi? It turns out that Bluetooth doing just fine—in fact, analysts estimate that 520 million units will ship this year. I guess the two standards can get along, after all.
That's not too surprising. The electronics industry is full of competing standards that have coexisted for years. There are lots of examples among communications standards. For example, cell phone standards include GSM, WCDMA, and PHS, just to name a few. As if that weren't enough, cellular technologies are now facing competition from WiFi and WiMAX. I have no idea how this will all settle out, but I'm sure that most of these technologies will be with us for a long time.
The constant arrival of new standards has some benefits. It gives us engineers flexibility in our designs, and (even better) it guarantees that we'll have projects to work on. On the other hand, confusion over standards is bad because it slows adoption of new technology. The battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray is a prime example. Who wants to spend $1000 on a DVD player that might become useless in a few years?
Of course, we all want our products to sell, so it is crucial to choose the right standards. Here are some ideas that will help you pick a winner:
- Look for standards that have a large captive audience. In other words, look for standards in applications that (1) have high volumes, (2) have long life cycles, and/or (3) give the end customer little freedom of choice regarding the standards used. The cell phone market is a good example of (1) and (3); the automotive market is a good example of (1) and (2).
- Look for standards that are evolutionary, not revolutionary. It is easier for a new standard to succeed if it is compatible with technology that has already been deployed.
- Use hardware that supports multiple standards, but don't support all of the standards into your first-generation product. In a video application, for example, you can use a processor that supports multiple video codecs, but only load the software for one codec. This minimizes your royalty payments, and it lets you make quick changes in case you chose the wrong standard.
- Copy your competitors. Using an already-popular standard maximizes your chances of finding the chipsets, engineering talent, etc., that you need to build that standard into your product. Plus, you'll spend less time justifying your choices to potential customers.
You might notice that I didn't include technical merit on this list. In my opinion, technical merit should be a secondary consideration. Am I wrong? Visit the forums and tell me why.