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Bluetooth: Dead and alive

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Jon Adams
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re: Bluetooth: Dead and alive
Jon Adams   4/24/2009 9:02:25 PM
Good day, Patrick - It's always fun to talk about Bluetooth. I remember fondly the Mathias/Marino debate. The challenge that BT faces is to remain relevant. Yes, there are more BT chips sold each day than grains of sand on the beach, that's a great thing for CSR and Broadcom. The real question comes down to "what does anyone do with Bluetooth?" In phones, it's a little bit like IRDA was in computers, PDAs and mobile phones for nearly a decade - a cost-adder that few actually used. Don't get me wrong - I'm one of the 99th percentile Bluetooth users. I use the mobile phone nearly exclusively, even in the office, and I always use my BT-enabled headset (unless the battery has died). I've tried to use BT for something other than headset - establishing a modem connection from my handset to my notebook. That doesn't work reliably or at all, so I fall back to a wired connection that works every time. I've tried to use it to transfer pix from the handset to the computer. That doesn't work well or at all. Neither of these problems has anything to do with technology, but instead with the handset manufacturers' or the service providers' expectations or allowances on what may or may not be done. And that won't change soon. And speaking of notebooks, a few years ago there seemed to be more with Bluetooth as part of the basic connectivity - now, that seems to have gone the other way, and now BT is an extra-cost option. Perhaps there's just no one to talk to, so why bother? Bluetooth embraced with a passion the mythical WiMedia WUSB technology so that BT's native data rate, good enough for the last century, could have a hope of trumping the everpresent Wi-Fi. That didn't happen. The recent announcement of BT3.0, which was originally intended to be the adoption of WUSB to BT, instead got repurposed to 802.11. But does anyone care? Wi-Fi works fine the way it is and doesn't need BT to be successful. Are handset manufacturers or service providers going to suddenly put expensive BT3.0 devices in their phones, when they have no way to monetize that investment? Unlikely. The phantasmal Bluetooth low energy is another gasp from the BTSIG - long irritated with ZigBee, and even more recently with the success of RF4CE, the BTLE effort has undergone all sorts of plan change and schedule delay since its birth as Wibree back in October 2006, and it still hasn't seen the light of day. It's apparent that there's deep conflict within BTSIG over what BTLE is really supposed to be and do. In any event, it will be a cost-adder to the basic BT functionality. So who's gonna bite? There's the sports watch manufacturer who said (this month at the BT event in Tokyo) that sales of watches have dropped every year since 2001, but that BTLE will reinvigorate the watch market because now watches will be connected. Hmmm. My phone tells time just fine, and I don't have a wrist tan-line to prove it. There's the people who imagine that, through BTLE, the phone becomes the universal remote control to the home. Others think that, through BTLE, the cellphone will be the connection between granny's weight scale and her health care provider. Never mind that granny doesn't carry her cellphone to the bathroom, and the practical range of BTLE is well under 10m. Is Bluetooth dead and alive? BTSIG is struggling. The paid membership has remained static or decreased. The number and mix of promoter companies have been static or decreased over the past 8 years. It's incredibly prolific like IRDA, while also being ignored by the vast majority of users and an increasing burden on the bill of materials. Bluetooth is dead but alive.

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