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Monday, January 7, 2008

Another Emperor's clothes - Bluetooth

One day of this week will be the ten-year birthday of Bluetooth. No one doubts its commercial success. Reuters has an article today.

2008 Marks Ten Years of Bluetooth Wireless Technology | Reuters

Fine. I dare to ask a question, how many of the 2 billion Bluetooth devices are actually in use?

My company provides me a Blackberry with a Bluetooth earpiece. I tried it once and I felt so awkward. I am not a heavy phone talker, and the only chance for me for use earpiece is when I am driving. Most of the usage is to listen audio books, in which case the Bluetooth earpiece won't work completely; the phone or the earpiece or both do not support the required profile. So instead, I turn to the wired earpiece accessory coming with my Blackberry. And of course I enjoy the stereo sound and do not bother charging battery (...for the earpiece). Further I do not have a concern of radiation next to my head. I do not feel I am talking to the air. If there is phone call coming in, I can click the button on the earpiece to switch to the phone call and it will automatically resume to the audio program I was listening to. My Bluetooth earpiece has a far more complex coding scheme of pairing, receiving call and many functions I can not remember.

My team has about 15 co-workers. To my observation, none of them use Bluetooth equipped with their cell phone, including my sales manager. My sales manager is a talkative person, but I only see him having the wired earpiece around his neck. I will ask him next time why he refuses Bluetooth.

Okay. This is because I am in a farm country in North America. How is the life style in metropolitan? I attend many conferences and travel world around. I do see people with a bulky thing next to their ears. But this does not qualify for a Bluetooth function on every cell phone.

Moving two years backward, I once worked on an accessory product trying to convert RS232 serial port to Bluetooth. I got a sample from the market, and holy smoke, it took me a entire day with help from a suppose expertise to set thing up on the PC. Now we know, new rev of Bluetooth has claimed an improved pairing experiences. And maybe Windows Vista improved the Bluetooth User Interface too. But anyway, a mental block has built up.

Let me have a gut-feeling guess, 50% of the Bluetooth device are in cell phone, 20% is in PC, 20% earpiece and 10% in another applications like remote control, gaming, industrial apps etc. If 10% of cell phone owners use Bluetooth, it gives you 5% usage rate. The corresponding earpiece should also have 5%, which is about 25% of the total earpiece shipped (sounds right). For PC, I never use it. Mouse, gaming and hi-fi audio may be the application, I give it 5% of the 20%; and it will be 1%. In the last, I want to be generous to the rest 10% of specific application that 80% is actually in use, and it will be 8% in a bigger picture. Add them up, I get 19% of the 2 billion, which is 380 million. Still not bad, with the price of 1.6 billion silicons never used (but paid by consumers, $9B). Should the green party sue all the phone manufacturers?

This is actually not unique, many consumer electronics provide features for competition/image/social stature and alike soft purposes. Even for cell phone and PC industry, this is not the first time. There are many software features that are not actually in many usage, such as WAP, but they are given for free (by perception; it actually consumes memory with expense of design and testing, which will add up to consumers). For hardware, I still remember IrDA, once was everywhere from cell phone, PC to printer. I owned several phones with a dark red window, but I have never ever used it. For personal interests, I only tried IrDA once on my Mac to transfer files with my colleague. We (The two Mac's) had to laser aiming to each other. I am wrong, I am actually using IrDA everyday... on my TV remote control.

I read another article today saying Wi-Fi will make its mark in handsets this year ( I love Wi-Fi so far, all of my Wi-Fi equipped devices are in active use. I think Wi-Fi will continue its success in cell phone arena (real success in term of usage rate) because its focus is on VoIP, to make people's lives cheap, not fancy.

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