Huge News Coming From Plantronics

I recently met with Plantronics executives and they were basking in the glow of being market share leaders in the bluetooth space. They were very happy with this achievement and were further excited to tell me about how they see the future of communications.
I meet with many dozens of companies per month and you get a sense for when a company seems to be onto something big. Of course this is easiest to spot when they tell you flatly, “Rich, we are onto something big.”
I couldn’t get anything out of the tightlipped management about what to expect. I even hinted at the company moving upmarket to potentially compete with Polycom in the IP phone space.
I did not get positive feedback to this comment but instead I was told Polycom is a great partner.
In past meetings with headset vendors and market research questionnaires I have seen – headset vendors always ask me my opinion of adding more intelligence to the once dumb headset.
So as I am flying on a fairly crowded airplane I have time to ponder what I would do if my headset had a powerful processor.
I suppose the first thing I would do is add speech recognition. I am not sure why really except I have a powerful processor and a microphone by my mouth. So far this line of reasoning makes sense.
But then what? I suppose I would compete with products from companies like Nuance which convert speech to text and then I could use the headset to control my computing and communications experience.
Is Plantronics recreating the digital assistant – a market revolutionized by a product called WildFire in the nineties?
The truth is I don’t know what the company is up to but it likely is something that will increase the need for us to use headsets.
Much of my conversation also centered on more concrete ideas as this speculation can be exhausting ;). The two people I met with by the way were Director of Marketing Joe McGrogan and VP of Business Development, Jeffrey Siegel. Jeff is more of a company visionary than a typical bizdev person.
It is tough to put their passion into words. They were beaming as they showed me the latest bluetooth headset which is about the size of a pack of gum and can be charged with a battery purchased in any convenience store.
I also saw a headset which is under NDA and looked pretty interesting. I really hate NDAs by the way – but they come with the territory.
It is obvious headsets are becoming fashion accessories. I realized this when I saw my wife put on a pink headset to match her pink phone. But Plantronics seems intent on taking personalization to the software level. They see this fitting perfectly with the drive in the industry towards unified communications.
The northern California-based company tells me their big announcement will be mind-blowing and it seems tied into unified communications. I suppose the announcement could be the headset becoming IP enabled. We have a vision today of a phone or soft client as the endpoints of choice.
But what happens if the headset becomes SIP enabled? Skype enabled? Are you thinking what I am thinking? You can put a web server on the headset for configuration and you can communicate like never before.
Somehow my instincts tell me Microsoft is involved in all this and this could be a way to bypass a PBX. But even if the PBX is still involved I can imagine click to dial applications where you click a phone number and it dials immediately and connects with your Plantronics headset. Citrix has a screen scraping application which does something similar so perhaps Plantronics has written one as well.
But forgive my conjecture. Plantronics had more concrete things to share like their belief knowledge workers will all have headsets in 3-5 years. You have to stop and scratch your head when you realize this is up from 10% today.
An IP-enabled headset seems to be the only way to get to these lofty numbers. Right? At no time did the dynamic management duo tell me they were going to start giving their products away so what other driver can there be besides IP?
Another thought is the headset as presence enabler. After all if we are all using wireless headsets I can finally know where everyone in my organization is. So my headset knows where I am and even knows if I am talking. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate in presence? I will look at your icon on my screen and see “talking for 5 minutes” next to it?
Headsets near an intelligent base could even determine if I am in a conference in the hallway. This can be the case if a few headsets are gathered in close proximity to one another and a few of the headsets pick up sound.
Plantronics could even detect heated discussions — or emotionally charged conversations. But do we really want our boss to see our presence as “involved in intimate conversation?” Hopefully will we never see “pillow talking” next to a presence icon.
A few other clues to what the big secret could be are the fact the company tells me their high fidelity Pulsar product which is not only a headset but also interconnects with an iPod gives a glimpse at the future. They also say multiple applications will be controlled with a single device. This seems to only be possible with speech recognition and IP enablement.
OK so you read it here first. Plantronics is onto something big – perhaps huge. No one outside the company knows what that is but I hope I am on track. With my luck I will be way off and the company will simply become a division of Oracle or Cisco. Who knows?
The Cisco option seems doubtful as the company cannot afford to be allied with a single PBX shop. But who knows about Oracle as the company has been on an M&A tear and has been playing more heavily in telecom as of late.
Time will tell and I will be thinking about this some more – at least until this plane lands. If I got you thinking and you have ideas. Please share and comment at the bottom of this page.

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