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Bluetooth Battles On

Yesterday, Michael Foley, the executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group trade association, stopped by the Post to show off an upcoming version of the Bluetooth wireless technologyfound in so many cell phones these days. He also talked about how Bluetooth is doing in the market.

Foley's demo of Bluetooth 2.1--the current version is 2.0--focused on how it simplifies common functions. He took a picture with a Nokia cell phone, then held it in front of a Bluetooth-enabled digital picture frame, then pressed one button on the phone to send over the photo. With older Bluetooth hardware, I would have had to navigate down multiple menus on the phone; instead, Bluetooth 2.1's support for "near field communication" allowed the frame to tell the phone that it was ready to receive a picture. (Naturally, when I tried this for myself it took me three tries to get this to happen.)

Bluetooth 2.1 will also include better security and improvements in battery life. It should be finalized in a month, but hardware incorporating it won't arrive for another 3 to 6 months.

With that out of the way, I asked Foley about some of the factors that have held Bluetooth back--some six years after its arrival, it remains a curiosity for many users.

One big reason: Most new PCs, excluding Apple's, still don't ship with Bluetooth. Foley said that Bluetooth's designers have addressed the concerns of computer vendors--for instance, the cost and battery life of Bluetooth keyboards and mice, as well as the way they once couldn't control a PC's bootup sequence.

But many companies keep holding back. For instance, the wireless keyboard on the HP TouchSmart desktop I reviewed last week used an older, non-Bluetooth radio-frequency link (which might explain why it sometimes didn't work).

Foley pointed to broader and better Bluetooth support in cars, including things like the Sync system Ford and Microsoft unveiled in January, and other devices, such as printers, medical devices and sports gear. But the major cause for optimism about Bluetooth has to be the continuing decline in the price of Bluetooth receivers; where once these parts cost $15 to $20 each, Foley said they're now down to $3 or $3.50. We're not at the point where Bluetooth is a free feature for a manufacturer to add, but we're getting closer.

Do you use Bluetooth in your daily life? Or has this entire entry left you wondering "Blue-what?"

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 7, 2007; 9:41 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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I started using a Bluetooth earpiece paired to my cell phone a little over 3 years ago. I was immediately addicted and can't imagine life without it. I've upgraded both phone and earpiece a couple of times; left Jabra for Motorola and have found each iteration to be better than the last in ease of use and ability to hold onto a connection. Big plus: When I'm wearing the flashing blue earpiece, I can actually get people to call me 7 of 9!

Posted by: ~sg | March 7, 2007 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I use Bluetooth pretty constantly. I have a Mac at home, and have a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I have so much other clutter (iPod and camera cords, etc.) that it is great to not have these two on top of it all.
But the really great Bluetooth breakthrough for me has been in my car. I have an Acurs RDX that have a good Bluetooth system and good voice recognition software, and it is a total pleasure to now use my phone in my car. I can call people hands-free, and the car's audio system handles the call. With the LA traffic, this has made my travel time much more productive, and it is much easier to work with than an earpiece.

Posted by: Tom in LA | March 7, 2007 8:02 PM | Report abuse

I like the Bluetooth mouse that I use with my Mac a lot. It's better than the wireless USB mouse I used to use with my old PC, because (a) I don't keep losing the USB receiver, (b) it was easier to set up, and (c) it worked right off the bat, and every time.

I've used Bluetooth earpieces with my cell phone, and I liked the idea of it, but the two I tried either didn't sound very good or didn't fit in my ear very well.

Posted by: jp | March 7, 2007 8:38 PM | Report abuse

One reason I upgraded to a RAZR V3i from my old V220 was because of the chance to use a Bluetooth headset, and - wow - has it been a Godsend. I can now talk with friends while driving through the District (no more speaker phone or dangling wires) and while doing things in my apartment (no more trying to cradle a slippery, small phone on my shoulder). I'm hoping to eventually upgrade to a Bluetooth-enabled PC so that I can use my Moto Phone Tools software without a USB connection.

Posted by: PK | March 7, 2007 9:07 PM | Report abuse

I use a Macally Bluetooth mouse on the XP-running laptop I use at work. An unlikely marriage, I know, but this was the least expensive mouse I could find at the time (a year or two ago) which did NOT include an unnecessary dongle (my T4x-series ThinkPad has BT built-in), and which uses AA cells (high-capacity NiMHs will give me three weeks' worth of service between charges).

Now that Logitech has a AA-based BT mouse for ~$45 at MicroCenter, I might migrate to that at work if/when the Mac hardware at home gets upgraded; we currently have wireless Logitech solutions on the Linux and OSX machines, with the attendant USB receivers and their clutter.

Posted by: Charles | March 8, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I use a BT headset with my phone, and probably would use BT with it more often if Verizon didn't disable so much of the BT functionality. My old Cingular Nokia would exchange files with my Dell Axim all the time. Also, I used to use BT to do file transfers between my Axim and my work PC (at home, I just put the PDA in its cradle), but my job now doesn't allow me to connect my personal hardware. I love the tech, it's worked well for me in the past, but VZW stomps on it when it doesn't meet their business model. Still, the headset capability alone is worth it.

Posted by: 23112 | March 8, 2007 9:17 AM | Report abuse

The promises of Bluetooth technology still have not been delivered in a lot of ways. Maximum range is supposed to be 10 meters, but I have yet to hear of anyone consistently achieving anything close to that in the real world. The wire that connects the hands-free ear-piece to my phone is about as long as the effective range of most BT headsets. In addition, some vendors (e.g., Verizon) have crippled their implementations of Bluetooth in order to protect flawed business models. Then there are the hijacking risks. My original understanding was that BT was supposed to be akin to wireless USB, but I am going to stick with regular old USB and other wired solutions until BT matures into something more than a toy.

Posted by: HoCo | March 8, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

IMO the reason BT has been so slow to take off is because of Cellphone Carriers who have total and complete control over the Cellphone hardware manufacturers. The joy of using wireless headsets is just the tip of the iceberg with BT but the Network Carriers lock down most BT functionality. How customers put up with this is beyond me.

Google "Tim Wu Cellular Policies Inhibit Innovation" for his spot-on opinion paper that covers this scam and more.

"Carriers should be forced to let any device be attached to their networks. He cites earlier rulings that forced the AT&T telephone monopoly to let consumers buy wired phones from third parties."

Posted by: sasha | March 8, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

As far as range is concerned, it's been demonstrated that not all BT products are the same. Some manufacturers do install better transceivers than others. For example, with my BT headset, I could leave the phone on the dining room table and walk 15 feet away to the oven and not notice a difference in quality. Similarly, I used to be able to connect to my PC from another office with my PDA...again, probably 15-20 feet. Other people's experiences with their devices have been much more limiting.

Posted by: 23112 | March 8, 2007 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I'd love to use bt to transfer pictures from my cell phone to my computer but Verizon, as others have noted, has crippled this particular feature. I can't wait for the new Apple iPhone as just one more reason to ditch Verizon. Somewhere, there is a special hell for the Verizon executives who continue to cripple mobile phone functionality and dumb down the user interface to the lowest common denominator in order to keep their support costs under control.

Posted by: jd | March 8, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I shopped both our cars based on luxury features - specifically - Bluetooth phone compatible. He drives a Toyota Prius - and I drive an Acura MDX - both of which have great handsfree Bluetooth technology. Many states - and DC are implementing laws about using cell phones in cars - and the handsfree features of Bluetooth are priceless!

Posted by: Kathie | March 8, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I have found bluetooth to be one of the buggiest technologies in recent memory. The headsets I have tried answer/dial maybe 50% of the time. They also both need to be charged every other day regardless of whether they were ever turned on. I went back to fumbling with the wired headset that came with my phone when I'm driving. Maybe in 5 years I will give BT another try.

Posted by: booyah | March 8, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

A BT GPS receiver came with the TomTom navigation kit for my Dell PocketPC. The PocketPC and receiver have worked well together for more than a year.

Last month I bought a Nokia E61. As soon as I turned on the phone's BT, the GPS receiver started feeding my Nokia map software. I had to look twice to convince myself that the software wasn't in some demo mode. Oh that everything IT was so easy!

(I'll buy a BT headset when the form factor doesn't make me look like a Vulcan.)

Posted by: infoshaman | March 8, 2007 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure that Carriers cripple mobile phone functionality and dumb down the user interface to the lowest common denominator to keep their support costs under control. They do it to maximize revenue.

If you can't download your photos and ringtones via BT, you have to use your plan minutes instead. I find this practice outrageous.

And don't get me started on content. Some carriers seem to be more and more interested in becoming content providers too. Memo to Carrier executives: I have no interest in your content. Stick to making a great network and you'll do just fine.

Posted by: sasha | March 8, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

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