A Bluetooth Ache for the Mac?

With a pavilion all to itself at Comdex, Bluetooth clearly stood out as the belle of the ball at last month's giant computer trade show. But if you're hoping to use the emerging wireless communications technology with your Mac, you could be in for a long wait.

Like its namesake-a Danish king who united the country under a single crown in the Middle Ages-Bluetooth technology hopes to unite your personal communication devices. Bluetooth uses radio technology to let your laptop, mobile phone, or hand-held organizer talk to each other, wire-free, at distances of up to 30 feet. For example, you could use your cell phone to synchronize data on your Palm organizer and desktop Mac. But Bluetooth advocates have even grander dreams, envisioning the technology as the glue that will bind computer peripherals, household appliances, and consumer electronics products.

Although Apple hasn't ruled out adopting Bluetooth in the future, it is not yet considering the technology for the Mac. Apple has not joined the 1,200 companies in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which supports the technology, nor has it provided developers with any indications of its Bluetooth plans. This is in marked contrast to USB and FireWire, which Apple committed to as early as spring 1998. "They made a technological statement of direction [with FireWire and USB]," says KeySpan president Mike Ridenhour. "There's been no clear statement regarding Bluetooth."

Greg Joswiak, Apple's director of portable and communications product marketing, says the company looks at such factors as cost and customer demand when evaluating new technologies. At present, he says, Apple has no plans to even make that evaluation with Bluetooth.

This approach could be a mistake, Bluetooth backers say. "I think they're going to be missing out if they don't embrace the technology because it's going to be so prevalent in people's lives and offices," says Skip Bryan, director of technology market development for Swedish mobile phone maker Ericsson, a founding member of the Bluetooth SIG.

Many high-tech heavyweights, including Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies, Compaq and, now, Microsoft, have announced support for Bluetooth. And the market could be vast. Research firm Cahner's In-Stat Group estimates that the manufacture of Bluetooth-enabled devices will top 200 million units in 2003.

But even the most ardent Bluetooth supporters don't expect products to hit the market until late 2000, with more arriving in 2001. This gives Apple time to get into the game, if it chooses to. And some Mac developers say they're experimenting with the technology. Bluetooth, Ridenhour says, is "one of those technologies we're investing engineering time in and getting acquainted with."

Bluetooth does not compete with AirPort, Apple's recently introduced wireless technology, which is based on the 802.11 wireless networking standard. Bluetooth's 30-foot range makes it suitable for connecting peripherals and other gadgets in a confined area. AirPort, which offers wireless connections up to 150 feet area, is geared toward local-area networks.

Associate Editor PHILIP MICHAELS covers systems and business software for Macworld.

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