Daniel Tull: Blog

Why the iPod needs Bluetooth tomorrow

Tuesday, 09 January 2007

I will first say this: I’ve been a huge fan of Bluetooth since I heard of its first inception and it amazed me how many companies would get together to produce this technology for the greater good. The Sony Ericsson T68i was a turning point for me, it had been the first phone I owned that wasn’t a Nokia, the first that had a camera and the first that had Bluetooth. This made me extremely excited.

However, this is like the opening of a Christmas present you’ve wanted all year and it’ll never live up to the hype and by Boxing day will be sitting in the corner whilst you and the family play cards. So what was the problem? I really had no use for Bluetooth. Wireless handsfree didn’t appeal as at the time I wasn’t driving, plus Bluetooth headsets were a couple hundred pounds. No-one else I knew had a Bluetooth enabled phone, so sending and receiving stuff was impossible.

This brings me to the Zune. For those that don’t know (no, really), the Zune is Microsoft’s attempt to dislodge the iPod from its top spot in the digital music playing market. It also has wifi built in so users can share music, which has been given DRM to only allow it to be played three times or for three days before it self-destructs. Now, if you get past this shoddy horrible mess, you have to actually find someone with a Zune. Note the similarity to my early experience with Bluetooth. Apple needs to reply to this potential threat quickly before more people snap up a Zune and are able to find other Zune owners.

So how do Apple win this wireless battle? They need a low power solution, such as maybe, Bluetooth! Why is Bluetooth a better horse to bet on? Well for one there’s a million and one Bluetooth accessories already out there; probably one of the main reasons the iPod is king is that there is any accessory you could think of for it and Bluetooth will give it even more options. With Bluetooth supported, you could buy one of the many new wireless headphones. And once Apple have sold enough of these Bluetooth iPods, then they can add support for music sharing and any other networking features it has in mind.

Looking back this is exactly how Apple operate, they wait until the pieces are in place before putting out the killer feature. Think iTunes before the movies came. Microsoft have added wifi with it being one of the only standout features the iPod lacks, but without the infrastructure there I expect Zune buyers to be disappointed. An iPod with wireless Bluetooth headphones as a feature doesn’t require anyone else having one of the new iPods to work. However, wireless sharing could be a “bonus” feature either from day zero or added later on through a firmware update and customers will be in the mind of getting a little extra something. A product that performs better than advertised is always better than a product that has a feature that you just can’t use.