The short-range wireless technology reaches some milestones but isn’t sitting idle.
One of the signs that a technology has entered the public consciousness is when it starts getting mentioned in the movies, theatrical plays and other cultural venues. Bluetooth has been used in movies for some time now but this summer made it into an off-Broadway show in New York City.
The off-Broadway show wasn’t written about Bluetooth specifically. The play, “Frequency Hopping,” was written by author Elyse Singer about how the late actress Hedy Lamarr and her boyfriend, composer-pianist George Antheil, came up with the idea to use frequency hopping in wireless communications. Frequency hopping, also used in CDMA, is part of the Bluetooth specifications.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) was one of the sponsors of the play, which ran about a month at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York City. Several Bluetooth devices were exhibited at the performances.
Bluetooth, which turned 10 years old in 2008, struggled for acceptance during its first years as the hype didn’t match market realities. But now it has reached the point – more than 2 billion devices use Bluetooth – that it is usually taken for granted the technology will be in any new mobile phone while the list of other devices continues to grow. According to the Bluetooth SIG, its brand is recognized by 85% of global consumers.
|Foley: Lion’s share of Bluetooth in phones.|
Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, said about 60% of the 2 billion Bluetooth devices are phones. That’s no surprise, given that phones had to incorporate the technology before any peripherals would have a market. Hence, the second most popular Bluetooth device is the headset.
What has surprised even Foley, however, are the number and kinds of other consumer devices using Bluetooth. These include game consoles like Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation3. It’s also showing up in TV sets, desktop PCs, keyboards and mice, printers, digital cameras and medical products.
“Designers are saying, ‘Bluetooth is in everything, so what else can we add to the Bluetooth chip?’,” said analyst Douglas McEuen of ABI Research. “Integration is a key trend in Bluetooth markets. GPS is a popular candidate, as is FM radio.”
In fact, Texas Instruments in March announced its NaviLink 6.0 chipset, which integrates Bluetooth with FM, assisted GPS and Bluetooth’s new ultra low power technology. TI says the chip will be used in handsets using GPS applications like 3D mapping and navigation or to enable a conversation on a Bluetooth headset while also transmitting an MP3 music file to the car radio using the FM transmit capability.
Amir Saintuch, business marketing and product marketing in TI’s Mobile Connectivity Solutions business unit, said Bluetooth has become a commodity with such low prices that the chip company is designing new products for new categories to generate growing revenue.
Another chipmaker, Broadcom, also has started shipping in volume its combination chip, the BCM4325, which integrates Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and an FM radio. Chris Bergey, director of the company’s Embedded Wireless line of business, said consumer products with the chip will be in the stores later this year. Broadcom also is working on a second generation that could include GPS, an FM transmitter, 802.11n and other communications technologies.
That’s why the Bluetooth industry has been working on new technologies to put Bluetooth into a lot more kinds of devices. Bluetooth is adding specifications for high-speed data delivery using Wi-Fi and for low-power consumption for use in devices things like sensors.
“We have a very ambitious 12 months ahead of us,” Foley said. He said most of the work has been completed on these new specifications and some companies are starting to build prototype devices. But the specifications are complex and testing them may not be completed until the first half of 2009.
Still, products using these two specifications could start appearing on the market in the middle of 2009. Both may be used initially to connect desktop computers to other devices, but Foley said the low-power specification has garnered a lot of interest among manufacturers of sensors for the health-care and fitness markets. Watch manufacturers also are showing interest, using Bluetooth to display the phone numbers for incoming calls or with an MP3 player to show the current track.
|Popcorn Popping Puzzle Solved|
Small companies in a crowded market face the problem of marketing and advertising their product on a low budget. A little Bluetooth headset company named Cardo Systems used the popularity of videos on YouTube to get the word out, quite successfully.
In June, one of the most popular YouTube videos showed people how to use a cell phone to pop popcorn. The videos showed three or four phones surrounding a few kernels on a table, with someone then calling the phones. The radio signals supposedly heated the popcorn so quickly that it popped in a matter of seconds.
The videos were e-mailed around the world, sometimes with messages that said, “This is why you should never use a cell phone.” The implication was that if cell phones could do this to a few kernels of popcorn, what would happen to your brain?
It all turned out to be an entertaining and viral marketing campaign by Cardo Systems, but more than 16 million people watched the YouTube videos and the company got its name for free in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Paris Match, and on CNN and ABC.
Abraham Glezerman, CEO of Cardo Systems, called the videos an “unconventional way” to reach a global audience that normally would have required a very large marketing budget. Besides the video viewers, Glezerman and Cardo have been featured in stories on CNN and ABC and newspapers like the New York Times.
“We did it as a means of getting buzz,” he said, even if the videos didn’t explicitly promote the Bluetooth headsets or his products. “It created discussions, blogs, letters, a worldwide debate.”
So, is it possible to use a few phones to pop popcorn? “Anyone knows it would take 10 million handsets to accomplish something like that,” said Glezerman. “I was quite surprised that some people took it for real.”
The Bluetooth SIG earlier linked up with ultra wideband (UWB) to provide the high-speed data link but while the UWB technology continues to be worked upon, the SIG decided to use Wi-Fi because the technology already is widely in use in PCs and increasingly in handsets.
The SIG, which announced the Wi-Fi integration plans last winter, says the combination of the two will allow consumers to move entertainment data like music, photos and video files between their own devices to those of friends, or to wirelessly synchronize music libraries between a PC and an MP3 player.
“The Bluetooth SIG is taking a logical step by applying Bluetooth protocols over an existing 802.11 radio to achieve efficient transfers of high data throughput applications,” said Flint Pulskamp, and IDC analyst. “Since Bluetooth and 802.11 already have significant traction in mobile devices, this coupled solution could prove to be an efficient interim solution, as the Bluetooth SIG continues to develop UWB for the future.”
The low-power specification, which the SIG is now calling its low energy technology, draws most of its basic technology from the Wibree technology developed by Nokia. The Finnish company essentially donated the technology to Bluetooth.
The SIG sees the low-energy technology being used in watches, toys, sports and fitness, health care, human interface devices and entertainment devices. The SIG is considering a “Bluetooth Innovation Worldcup” as an international competition to foster innovations and ideas on how to use low-energy Bluetooth.
Now that Bluetooth is in more than 2 billion devices, you might think Foley is thinking about how long it will take to have the next 2 billion. But he’s thinking about the time when there will be 2 billion Bluetooth devices shipped in one year. He said he thought at one time that year might be 2010, but now believes it will happen in 2011. Some analysts agree – ABI Research has forecast 2.4 billion Bluetooth devices will ship in 2013. That time will only come when Bluetooth radios are in all manner of consumer electronics devices and the technology no longer is thought of only something used in mobile phones and handsets.
|From Denmark to Broadway|