Switched On: The Blossoming of Bluetooth
Each week Ross Rubin contributes
Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia,
and digital entertainment:
For years, many have been predicting the death of Bluetooth,
the underachieving technology that served as the slow and ungainly Stephen
Baldwin to brother WiFi’s Alec. After WiFi achieved great success,
Bluetooth was spun as a technology for simple “cable replacement” (as
opposed to wireless technologies that don’t replace cables?).
Since it had its roots in the cell phone industry, it was expected that Bluetooth phones would flood the market, creating millions of “wireless hubs” that would host a range of connected devices and offering a gateway to the Internet for even more millions of products without cellular radios. But the hubs were slow to come. Without those phones, there weren’t many compelling reasons to support Bluetooth.
Still, Bluetooth stuck around in the States, partly because of the
global supply concerns of American technology companies. Bluetooth became
more popular in PDAs and an option in laptops. A few printers came to
market with the technology. Nokia conceptualized some Bluetooth-powered
digital imaging accessories. Bluetooth headsets became less expensive
(although even today they still make the wearer look like a
Borg-in-training). Nevertheless, without the cell phones, it all rang
hollow – these spokes didn’t have a central connection.
While the CTIA 2005 conference in New Orleans was certainly no coming-out party for Bluetooth, the technology was as easy to find as bare breasts on Bourbon Street. In addition to the considerable variety of Bluetooth headsets available now (including prototypes embedded into sunglasses and motorcycle helmets), the first stereo Bluetooth headphones are coming into the market. These should be aided by the faster version of the standard, already supported by Apple in its PowerBooks. Bluetooth GPS receivers turn handhelds into car navigation systems and factory-installed hands-free systems continue to slowly march their way into vehicles.
On the more adventurous front, TomTom, the European company rethinking GPS navigation, will turn the next generation of its portable TomTom Go systems into “hands-free” kits using Bluetooth. Pentax previewed a Bluetooth version of its mobile printer and Logitech showed a Bluetooth version of its io digital pen. And in what was surely the most novel Bluetooth product on the CTIA show floor, MIT Media Lab representatives were showing a Bluetooth-enabled plush squirrel that “wakes up” while your electronic agent notifies recipients on your unavailability. Thankfully, the plush animal did not wear an “I’m NUTS about Bluetooth!” t-shirt.
Most importantly, Bluetooth phones are becoming less of a novelty, increasingly showing up in phones that consumers actually want. While the connectivity feature is still far from ubiquitous, stylish handsets such as the Motorola RAZR, SLVR, and A630 support Bluetooth as do data crunchers such as the Treo 650 and several BlackBerry models. Nokia is releasing more GSM Bluetooth handsets and of course Bluetooth has finally come to CDMA carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS.
CTIA made a convincing case that this is Bluetooth’s moment to shine although its most promising application – acting as a wireless Internet gateway for other intelligent devices on a personal area network – hasn’t come to fruition. Part of this has been due to the rapid improvements in smartphones that obviate the need, and part has been due to lack of demand and the simplicity that comes with a single device. Still, the applications exist, the wireless data networks are getting faster, and increased adoption means that the Bluetooth ecosystem is on the cusp of filling in its long-vacant hub.
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Add your comments)
Besides making you look like a Borg, the battery life ain't all the
great on the BT headsets I have tried. Bluetooth car kits probably make
more sense, because you don't have to recharge the god damn things. I
can't tell you how many times I've gone to make a phone call with the
headset, and as soon as I start talking it starts beeping that the battery
Bluetooth between my ipaq 5450, my phone, and my headset sometimes do not play nice. The ipaq will knock the headset off the phone when I bluetooth a number from the ipaq to the phone.
I could never get my ipaq to sync with my PC via bluetooth.
All in all, bluetooth should be renamed Blewtooth, or Blowtooth, 'cause it blows. I gave up on the ipaq, for many reasons, but the bluetooth problems were the last straw.
buzzcut - My powerbook syncs beautifully with my P900 via
Bluetooth...it worked the first time I tried it with minimal setup. I also
use it consistently to transfer files (images, music, documents) to and
from my phone. It's so nice to not have to carry an extra cable
My wife's Acura TL has Bluetooth HandsFree functionality, which works flawlessly with her phone. It has even worked when her phone was in the trunk.
I hardly think Bluetooth sucks. Obviously it's not perfect, but as a PC guy you should be used to things not working as expected.
I have a Motorola v710 phone (don't laugh) and a zire 72, as well as a
belkin bluetooth USB adapter for my laptop.
My primary use of BT is in getting my PDA on the internet via my cell phone, since the PDA offers no other means of connecting to any cell phones outside of bluetooth. I don't do the sync thing so much with my laptop; when I did (had to RMA the laptop so I lost everything) I found BT syncing was extraordinarily slow compared to using a USB cable so why bother? With Wifi, I've not had any need to use my cell phone as a BT modem very often with the laptop. I've not seen many BT headsets that weren't disposible and/or affordable so I haven't gone that route yet.
It seems to me that BT would replace infared, and would be a better way for PDAs to send contacts, files, etc. to other equipped PDAs. But that's just based on my limited use of it.
I dunno... BT isn't blossoming for the rest of us. It's tough to find
BT mice these days in stores, though there are several on the market. And
they are quite over priced compared to non-BT offerings.
Although Apple has BT standard in its PowerBooks - they don't do a very good job of supporting its implementation. I just spent 5 hours figuring out how to use my Plantronics BT headset with my 12" G4. Most of that time was wasted because Apple's System update doesn't update BT at all. You have to manually download and install BT 1.5 (dunno why it isn't done by the update service). Then there is the firmware update to BT you can only apply after BT 1.5 is installed. There is no clear, lucid documentation or explanation of this. Hell, there isn't even a way to figure out what versions of BT you have installed (I tried the about this Mac menu...).
I live in Japan, and have been hankering to get a BT phone to sync with my Mac. Unfortunately, the offerings are pretty slim here - believe it or not. I can only find 1 current model in Docomo's and Au's current line-up (#1 and #2 providers here). Vodaphone Japan has several, but this provider's signal is so weak I'm not sure it would be a smart move.
So, though I hope for BT, the implementation has been kludgy at best from my perspective. Blooming is a term that is not appropriate as yet.
Yeah, I hear Macs are wonderful for Blowtooth. I don't believe it. It
might work for some things on Blowtooth, but how about, say,
I think my problem was that I was trying to use Blowtooth features that were not necessarily supported by every implementation of Blowtooth. I have a feeling that, say, PDA syncing is not a standard feature, thus my problems with it.
Anyway, to me saying it works good on a Mac is as useful as saying that it works good on an Amiga. I'm not ever going to use either.
yea I was just going to say that, the mac connectivity would be so sweet if I gave a f**k.
So the US is finally catching up!
I have been using a BT headset for the past three years, am presently very happy with my SE HBH660. My carkit is BT and so not only does my phone connect when I am driving so does my partners if she uses the car.
Have a Clie TH55 (the European one with both BT & WiFI) which connects well with my phone & laptop with no problems.
This post is made with my BT keyboard and mouse along with my Vaio laptop.
Oh and I transfer handwriten notes to my computer with BT thanks to the fact that I use an Anoto based pen.
When I firsted starting using BT the battery did not last very long but over time it has improved just at it did with my mobile. The great feature is that I can easily control what I connect to and what they are able to do in terms of profile, something not easily done by its evil twin WiFi.
Now the you guys are starting to see the light hopefully we will see an ever increasing number of devices using BT and the faster adoption of the 2.0 standards. With those you are going to see headsets that can be paired with more than one device at a time and so use the headset for both laptop and phone at the same time!
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