Yesterday I needed to find a USB Stick to move about 150KB of files to the print shop. It took several minutes. During those several minutes, I cursed wildly and proclaimed damnation to the worthlessness of Bluetooth for doing something as simple as storing files on my iPhone. I also realized that, apart from about two years ago when I made an effort to move files via Bluetooth on iPhone, I had never used it on my phone. NFC is being productized to do many things, one of which is to help Bluetooth not suck. So, why use Bluetooth at all?
I’ll break down the three major use-cases of Bluetooth in phones. Bluetooth is also used in PS3 controllers and things like those, but I am focusing on phones.
1. Wireless headset/earpiece
This is the classic application of Bluetooth, and still the biggest source of usage, without question. The thing is, I haven’t seen anyone wearing a Bluetooth headset since about 2008. All I see are wired earbuds, but then again all I really see are people texting.
Assuming that this is still a worthwhile market (of course, it still is), I don’t see why Active Mode NFC couldn’t meet the need beautifully. 3m is not much range for almost any application, but for this application, it is more than enough. Moreover, at slow & low 13.56 MHz, NFC will not promote cancer. Regardless of the output power (typ 1mW), 2.45 GHz Bluetooth is in the spectrum that is suspect for accelerating the growth of brain cancer. Maybe the claims are bogus, but with NFC I can look you in the eye and tell you for sure that you’ll be fine.
2. Hands-free setup in cars
Basically, this is exactly the same as case 1, but instead you are using the car interior rather than a headset. We know that most automotive manufacturers are putting NFC in cars, for all kinds of things. So, if NFC can work for headsets, in can work for hand-free in cars just as well.
3. Body Area Network
Bluetooth 4.0 includes functionality with Bluetooth Low Energy devices, which are slowly being integrated into health and fitness apparatuses like heart-rate monitors and watches, things of this sort. Active Mode NFC can work well on these devices as well. In fact, it propagates through water vastly better than Bluetooth does, so I imagine it would work even better. At the 848kbps data rate, or even the 424, 212, or 106 kpbs modes, it has basically the same data rate properties that Bluetooth Low Energy has, so the data transfer models can be about the same.
NFC is getting employed for the purpose of pairing Bluetooth devices for later data transfer. This alone indicates that something is wrong with Bluetooth. Frankly, I would love to never need damn USB sticks again. For whatever reason, Bluetooth just doesn’t cut it, even though Bluetooth 2.0 was designed for years to solve this need. We’ve tried it for years, and it just has not caught-on. However, I could see Kinkos putting NFC widgets on their print stations: from a human interface perspective this makes sense. Searching for Bluetooth networks and pairing just doesn’t. I believe that phone developers looking for possibilities with NFC will end up succeeding, where the others who tow the same-old line with Bluetooth will end up building the same-old unappealing devices.
Finally, I didn’t intend to cast doubt on Bluetooth 4.0, but, honestly, doubt needs to be cast on anything with “Bluetooth” in the name. It’s probably time to start moving-on from Bluetooth, the most underutilized technology ever invented. It had its time, and nobody seemed to care.