Forget Apps Stores, music and the web on your phone. A recent survey by market research analyst TNS has shown that the most used service reported by UK phone users is Bluetooth.
You know a technology has moved into the mainstream when it starts appearing as a noun or an adjective (much to the annoyance of brand managers). But in the UK, Bluetooth has just done just that. We wear our Bluetooths on our ears and Bluetooth our pictures to one another. It’s nice to discover that this unofficial consensus of colloquial usage has been endorsed by real data.
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.
Most technologies are born and either survive or die. UWB (Ultra Wide Band) seems determined to do it differently, by constantly reincarnating itself and never quite getting there.It’s currently at another inflection point in its serendipitous life cycle and it’s not at all obvious whether it will survive this one.
I was recently reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan, where I discovered that he had invented an acronym which struck me as remarkably apposite – the Universal Will to Believe. In his case it’s probably nothing to do with wireless (although it could be), but is the mysterious power source in Tralfamodorean spaceships that is harnessed to power the Martian fleet of flying saucers.Obscure power sources for space travel seem to be a recurring theme in science fiction, as Douglas Adams created something remarkably similar a few decades later, with his Infinite Probability Drive in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.And recurring themes and reinvention are eerily common in the curious world of UWB.
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.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency recently published a strategy document on how they intend to connect with patients and public bodies. It’s an eminently sensible thing to do, and when they answered some questions about it they made the equally sensible comment that “these may include using social networking sites, blogs and text messages”. Rather that concentrating on the good sense of their strategy, that line generated the predictable knee jerk reaction from much of the medical press. Conservative as ever, they bridled at yet another attempt to let patients and carers take any part in managing their health. Instead of accepting that there might be something in the announcement, they preferred to puff and pontificate, raking up the standard old muck, such as the claim that 25%of GPs end up treating patients who have bought medicines over the Internet. You get the impression they’d rather prescribe us a sleeping draught than run the risk that we might spend a waking moment with a web browser.
It’s a shame that this reaction is still so prevalent. Social networks and the Internet will never be a replacement for medical care, but they have the ability to play a much greater role in how we live and manage disease. Everyone with an ounce of sense who has looked at the demographics knows that we cannot continue with the current model. We shouldn’t be pouring scorn on social networking, we should be looking carefully to see how it can help our healthcare experience evolve.
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.