Is Bluetooth ‘ON’ a concern for Beacon Adoption?

This is one of the first questions that Advertisers, Marketers, Retailers, Investors and nearly everyone that we talk to about Beacons ask. The question comes from an era where having Bluetooth ‘ON’ used to be expensive in terms of power usage and the number of use cases for it was also limited.

But, things are different now. The last 7 years has seen the adoption of Bluetooth 4.0 as the primary standard for nearly all Smartphones. And with the advent of 4.0 and subsequent standards (adoption of 5.0 is still in its infancy), the question about ‘Power usage’ has reduced quite a bit. Actually, the power consumption in comparison with WiFi is significantly lower in case of certain use cases.

“Bluetooth uses less than 3 percent of the power required by Wi-Fi for the same tasks. For example, sending data at the rate of 75 bytes per second over Wi-Fi requires approximately 80 milliwatts of electrical power. Sending data at the same rate over Bluetooth consumes only 2 milliwatts.”
While it may not matter to people in terms of actual usage, the (mis)conception that Bluetooth was draining battery has gone down significantly.

Now, to the larger question of how many people keep it ‘ON’?
With the advent of Health & Fitness devices, Smart home Devices, Smart Watches & Connected Cars, the number of devices which need Bluetooth ‘ON’ has increased significantly in the last 3–4 years. Bluetooth is also becoming the de-facto standard for connecting all of our devices together, and this should lead to the network effect of more smartphones keeping bluetooth ‘ON’ and more devices coming to the market. In 2015 & 2016, Rover & Google reported that nearly 40% & 50% of its users keep Bluetooth ON. As per the latest note from Rover,

“Bluetooth ‘on’ rates have increased significantly to over 60% (~20% growth since spring 2015)”.

And this number is only going to increase as the market is giving people more reasons to keep Bluetooth ‘ON’. However, we are still left with the half way mark. (However, please note that most of the studies are either of North American or European in nature. And these numbers will vary across geographies, age-segments, locations etc.)

The most important driver in the last year or so have been the addition of devices from Smartphone manufacturers that need Bluetooth to be ‘ON’. For example, the iPhone AirPods which uses Bluetooth as the primary connectivity medium making users to leave the setting to default ‘ON’. And given the trend by Apple, others will follow leading to better adoption.

How about Smart Watches & other connected devices?
Smartwatches despite its troubles in terms of adoption, still dominate the Wearable segment with nearly 400+MN shipments expected by 2019. At this moment, the market is split between Apple & Google and the feature additions should ensure that these go beyond the typical applications of today. Possibly, bring in AR/VR into these devices.
Also, many devices in your smart home are typically connected over Bluetooth as they run on battery to ensure longevity. WiFi as a connectivity technology is popular as it can provide Web Access, but Bluetooth is more efficient with power and you don’t want to be changing batteries in all your devices like motion detectors and light sensors every month. However, Smart Homes tend to use 4 major standards namely, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread and Bluetooth Low Energy. Each standard has its own pros and cons but the other 3 don’t have the advantage that Bluetooth Low energy has. It is available in nearly every Smartphone, which should lead to more manufacturers supporting it.

Car Entertainment systems which typically use Bluetooth as the connectivity medium are becoming popular, but in India it is still restricted to the higher end segment. So, this means that in Malls/Office-spaces the number of people with Bluetooth ‘ON’ should be higher than normal.

But, the most important cog in this market is the Advertiser/Marketer. They will become more savvy to engaging the user while requiring them to turn on bluetooth. Once the benefits become clearer, the adoption will become better.

With all these factors playing a role in adoption, Bluetooth default setting moving to ‘ON’ and Beacon usage should only increase in the future.

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