The phrase of “two nations divided by a common language” to describe the differences between America and the UK is generally ascribed to Bernard Shaw. Looking at a recent presentation on mHealth, it occurred to me that a very similar comment could be coined for the way we use our mobile phones.
The thought that prompted this came from a presentation by Andre Blackman on mHealth. In it he asked his North Carolina audience the question of “How many mobile phones are equipped with SMS (text) function?” The answer, which I suspect surprised a number of his audience, was “WOW – 95%”. It struck me that had I been asking a similar question in Europe, I’d have phrased it differently, probably as “When was the last phone sold which didn’t have SMS?” And I’d have been surprised to get many audience members suggesting a date any later than 2002 – ten years after the first SMS was sent.
It highlights something which I’ve been aware of for the last ten years – different countries and cultures are developing their mobile usage in different ways. Multi-mode and multi-standard phones now mean that most of us around the world have the same basic technology in our hands. Yet the way we use that and the way that our network operators promote it continues to diverge.
PI (PROFIBUS & PROFINET International) – the group leading manufacturing automation connectivity standards, has announced that having completed an investigation of the different wireless options, they are moving forward with the Bluetooth standard for their radio technology.
The announcement is part of a growing chorus of acceptance for Bluetooth technology, as its maturity, robustness to interference and interoperability propels it into a diverse range of applications where reliability is critical.
At the Bluetooth low energy preview day in Tokyo, a spokesman for Nokia reported an interesting statistic. Every year, 300,000 laptops are lost or left behind by passengers at U.S. airports. Apparently that’s greater than the number of mobile phones left at airports, suggesting that most travellers consider their phone to be more important than their laptop, but that’s another story. At first sight the figure seems staggering, but it’s only around one laptop per airport per day. What is staggering is the resulting cost of replacement, which equates to a third of a billion dollars every year.
The reason for raising this statistic is to point out one of the new applications which will be made possible by Bluetooth low energy. Bluetooth low energy (previously known as Wibree) is the new Bluetooth standard that is coming out this year and which enables devices to be produced which include a wireless link to transmit small amounts of data, and support a battery life that can extend into years. One of the first applications that will ship is access control or proximity detection. Which is why it can save the US economy $300,000,000 every year.
At a packed conference hall in Tokyo today, the Bluetooth SIG hosted the first public demonstrations of the new Bluetooth low energy standard to an audience of press and consumer electronics companies. This new standard will enable a wide range of connected devices to communicate with and through mobile phones. Four new chips were announced at the all-day event – a sure sign of gathering momentum.
The exciting aspect of Bluetooth low energy is its ability to enable low cost devices to be made that can send their data all of the way to the web. It’s based on over ten years of experience and promises to have the fastest growing ecosystem of any wireless standard. Today’s meeting sent a clear message to developers that they need to start designing now to be ready for the first generation of Bluetooth low energy handsets.
Ten years ago, Bluetooth, 802.11 and HomeRF were engaged in an acrimonious battle for supremacy over leadership as the short range radio standard. HomeRF died, and in the following years Bluetooth and 802.11 found their areas of application and now coexist together, to the extent of joining forces in the new Bluetooth 3.0 specification. Today a new and ferocious fight is taking place for the role of ultra low power radio champion. This time, there is likely to be just one winner.
In the two main corners of the ring are ZigBee PRO and Bluetooth low energy (previously known as Wibree). Alongside them, throwing lighter punches, are an array of lesser contenders, including Z-Wave, ANT, Wavenis, and Wireless M-Bus. What is at stake is the prize of becoming the standard for connecting low power consumer products to the next generation of mobile phones and enabling smart energy devices within the home.
Apple’s App Store is the flavour of the month in the mobile world. Everyone in mobile wants to have their own. At the Mobile World Congress operators and manufacturers were all jumping on the bandwagon and announcing their individual flavour of App Store, coming soon to a phone near you.
What wasn’t mentioned is how the App Store is redefining the relationships between the customer, the handset manufacturer and the network operator. I believe that it has the potential to drastically change the balance, with the network operator being emasculated and facing a future of becoming the dreaded “dumb pipe”. There may be a way out for them, but it will involve their thinking along very different and radical lines.