Incisor was created to track Bluetooth and the industry around it

Vince Holton tells the Incisor story

It’s 21 years since I sat down and created the first ever issue of Incisor. Yes, we first published the mag in December 1998.

Our goal was to help the world understand a radio technology going by the weird name of Bluetooth. Little did we – nor we suspect most of the people involved at the time – know what was to come.

Along the way, as we helped tell the Bluetooth story, we worked with many of the great companies that made Bluetooth happen. Not only the founding companies – Ericsson, Nokia, Intel, IBM and Toshiba – but also the gritty, aggressive and innovative companies that did a lot of the earlier work and brought the first products into the cold light of day. And when I say products, I’m including protocol stacks, test gear and other bits of the software and hardware underpinnings that were vital to the process. We got down and dirty with companies like Digianswer, Ellisys, Frontline, Silicon Wave and Cambridge Silicon Radio, or CSR as it came to be known. We will come back to CSR later as this was an incredibly innovative and ambitious British company that seemed to come out of nowhere and eventually dominated the Bluetooth silicon market.


The broader market, and tech does show-biz

As time went on, we tracked Wi-Fi, Zigbee, UWB, NFC, RFID and a bunch of others that came, occasionally stuck, or otherwise went.  In the Bluetooth space we looked at HomeRF, Shared Wireless Access Protocol (SWAP), Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and the WirelessReady Alliance (WRA). Remember them?

Most people agree that Bluetooth’s roll-out was like nothing the industry had seen before. We remember conferences in places like Atlanta, Los Angeles and one particular stand-out shindig in Monaco, where more than 2,000 people attended, where there was a glittering event with popstars, liveried Ferraris and F1 drivers (the Ferraris supplied by Incisor, I should add!).

We don’t feel apologetic about being a little nostalgic. Inside this issue we have republished the entire first issue of Incisor so that you can get a feel for the way that Bluetooth came to the world. If anyone is interested, there are 20 years of back issues that track Bluetooth developments in a way probably unrivalled anywhere else. I’m proud of that.


The Finnish Nostradamus

We’ve also republished an early article written by a futurist – Finnish guru Risto Linturi – who contributed an article in March 1999 which included concepts that at the time seemed fanciful, to say the least. Re-reading that article today, it is amazing just how many of Risto’s ideas and concepts have become reality. We surprised him by contacting him again now, 20 years later, and invited him to share his own thoughts once again. It’s fascinating stuff.


Preaching to the converted

So, we have been doing this for a long time. Over the course of 20 years we have built a subscriber base of people who are really, seriously interested in wireless technology, smart connected devices, smart buildings, cars, factories etc. and the way that these technologies are enabling so many of the applications that are driving the way that the world works today. Our readers are technical people, engineers, scientists, academics, developers at all levels, and they could be working in a garden shed/back bedroom or in a lab at General Motors, Ericsson, Husqvarna, Samsung or any one of tens of thousands of other companies.

Does all of this make Incisor the longest continually published wireless magazine, as was suggested by an industry luminary? I don’t know. But now it is time for Incisor to change.


There’s life, Jim …

Lest this sound like an obituary, let me emphasise that this is not the case. This is not the end of Incisor, but we do have to change. The world is moving on, and the clients we work with today – and whom we rely on for our income – are less inclined to support the magazine format. Marketing gurus are telling their bosses that today it’s all about social media and video. Lots and lots and lots of video, which is rather fortunate for us as that’s what we spend most of our time doing today. Creating video content.

This is why Incisor is evolving. Not stopping, not dying – evolving.

We have always had a website, but if the truth’s to be known the website that appears when you type is still basically the first version of our website. It is so old, it pre-dates the Internet. Oh, hang on, not quite, but you get the point. Its primary function for some time has been as the delivery mechanism for our video content.  But it still looks very old, it’s not mobile friendly and there are functions we need that it just can’t handle. So it is time for a change and a new website.

We have, then, acknowledged the fact that our former business model was getting a bit unworkable. We are enabling a new business model by launching a new website that will maintain Incisor’s presence and profile in the worlds of wireless technology, smart connected devices and the Internet of Things, but which will operate in different ways.

Our new site, which should go live during January, will continue to publish stories about developments in the markets that we have traditionally tracked, but it will also be much more video centric. Video is the content distribution mechanism that the world is addicted to. Ask YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Twitch. We are not setting out to rival those guys, of course, but we do believe we will have more content about wireless technology, smart connected devices and IoT than they will!

If you like reading about tech, we’re not giving up on the written word. The new site will include news stories and editorial features too. Unlike the existing site, we will be able to engage in two-way dialogue, as site visitors will be able to leave comments on our stories.


The commercial imperative

None of what we do would be possible without our sponsors and advertisers, so we will make space available on the site for sponsor advertising and messaging, as well as editorial content from our sponsors. We’ve always done this, and to the best of my knowledge, we’ve never offended anybody by doing so. On the contrary, a lot of our sponsor content has been extremely informative and educational. We plan to keep it that way.

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You (will still) have mail

For some time now we have not been sending Incisor magazine out to our subscribers each month. We did do that for a long time, but the problem is that that methodology creates large emails, or rather, emails with large attachments and some people don’t like receiving those. Instead, for the last few years we have stayed in contact with our subscribers by email, sending them a mail each time Incisor was published and providing links to either download the traditional, .pdf version of the magazine, or to click on a link and read Incisor as an e-book. This all seems to have worked very well, and so, from this point forwards, we will continue to stay in touch with our subscribers by email, notifying them when new content – video, editorial or perhaps events – has been published on the site.

There will be no sudden carpet-bombing email campaign. We don’t like it when companies harass us and we don’t intend to become miscreants ourselves.


Show us what you’ve got

What we do want to do is find those companies that really are doing interesting things with wireless and smart connected technology. The early years of Bluetooth were incredibly fertile, and the innovation and development processes took place at an incredible pace. There was no shortage of companies doing important stuff that we could talk to.

Today? Not so much. If we’re frank, the current complexion of the market is fairly wan (see what we did there?).  Bluetooth, Wi-Fi et al are all decidedly mature technologies. Interesting announcements are few and far between. For a while we thought that the Internet of Things (IoT) was going to be the saviour, the NBT (Next Big Thing) but even the most ardent PRs and marketeers seem to have become bored with IoT too.

We’re sure that there are people and companies out there that are developing interesting stuff. Our partnerships with test solution companies like Ellisys and with standards bodies such as the EnOcean Alliance and DECT Forum are bringing us into contact with lots of companies that are doing interesting things in the wireless, smart device, smart home/smart building environments and we want to work with these and many more people like them.

We have a subscriber base of several thousand people who want to know about this stuff, and who may well be interested to buy the products or services that we are able to publicise. This is a concept that is often called a ‘primed pump’. We provide direct connections between the companies developing technologies and the companies that need to buy it. That’s what 20 years of subscriber-base building will do.


Time to get your hand in your pocket

We do need to work with companies that understand marketing, and who understand that if they want a publishing company to share access to its hard won audience, they – the marketing company – need to share the cost of marketing their products. All of the most successful companies that we have ever worked with have understood this. Earlier in this piece we mentioned CSR. From kick-off in 1998, that company went from start-up, to Bluetooth chip market dominance (leaving massively bigger semicon companies coughing in its dust), to being purchased by Qualcomm in 2015 for $2.5 billion.  Not bad for a small Cambridge start-up.

From Day 1, CSR’s founders knew that in order to achieve their ambitions they had to get their message out there. They were engineers, but they were a strange and previously unheard-of breed of engineers who knew that it was as important to invest in marketing as it was to invest in R&D. CSR marketed itself aggressively, consistently and globally. CSR was a major sponsor of Incisor for 9 years and we did some fantastic work together over the years. It’s fair to say that the process worked. You can’t argue with being acquired for $2.5 billion – and having earned a lot of money along the way, of course.

Sadly, this understanding, this methodology is far from the norm. Our shoulders sink every time some CMO or hapless PR person tells us what a great idea it would be for us to invest our time to make a video or write a story about their company and publish it to the Incisor audience, while believing that we should feel privileged to be offered this opportunity and that we should do this work at our own cost. I mean, come on.

This thinking is what has killed so many of the media titles and channels that used to be the lifeblood – or at least the information distribution channel – of the industry. By keeping our systems lean and mean, Incisor has hung on in there and survived, largely due to a few key relationships with a few good companies. But we would love to work with more companies who really are committed to making a success of their businesses. Marketing stuff can be fun, for heaven’s sake, so talk to us and help us let the world know what is going on.


Onwards and ever forwards

So that’s what is going on for Incisor in 2020. Soon you will see the new web site. Our next email to our subscribers will be the one that lets them know that the new site is live. Have a look at it, let us know what you think and – and this is the bit that can really make good things happen – let us know about the great stuff that your company is doing and work with us to promote this to Incisor’s global subscriber base.

Meantime, we made the usual cross-Atlantic trek and attended CES 2020 in Las Vegas, filming some great content with our sponsor Ellisys. Videos we made there and plenty more new content will be available at the new site soon.


Thanks for your support, and here’s to the next 20 years!

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