If Bluetooth ever enters the mainstream, it may take a company like Apple to get it there.
is an industry standard for wirelessly connecting computers and peripherals, transmitting data at up to 1Mbps within a range of about 30 feet. Apple’s Bluetooth technology for Mac OS X, announced in March, will let customers wirelessly share files between Macs; synchronize and share contact information with Palm-OS based PDAs, including models from Sony and Palm; and access the Internet through Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, including models from Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola.
However, while Bluetooth is finally showing some “teeth,” it still has a “not ready for primetime” feel to it, according to Mike Langberg, a columnist for the
. The first batch of Bluetooth products don’t work together very well, he said in his
It’s hard to describe Bluetooth to the uninitiated. At the most basic level, it’s a set of standards for using low-power radio transmitter/receivers to connect all kinds of electronic devices, including computers, mobile phones, personal digital assistants, printers, cordless headsets and even digital cameras.
The technical rules for how this works are set by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, with backing from corporate heavyweights including Ericcson, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, 3Com and Toshiba. According to Langberg, in the best case scenario, once the demand for Bluetooth grows large enough, the cost for adding Bluetooth capability to a “smart” device such as a mobile phone, handheld or personal computer could drop as low as US$5 — low enough for Bluetooth to become almost universal. But today Bluetooth is still an expensive and limited option, he added.
“There are only a handful of mobile phones with built-in Bluetooth,” Langberg writes. “I could find only one being sold in the United States, the Sony Ericsson T68 at $199 from AT&T Wireless. Bluetooth headsets cost about $200 — a huge premium for getting rid of a slender wire, considering corded headsets sell for well under $50. Bluetooth modules for PDAs cost more than $100. Setting up a wireless computer network with Bluetooth would cost two or three times as much as Wi-Fi.”
In his column, he also wrote of difficulties in trying to use Bluetooth on his Wintel system. Langberg also said it isn’t clear how widely Bluetooth will be supported by major electronics manufacturers, “leaving open the question of whether Bluetooth will ever reach critical mass.” And even if it does, Bluetooth devices could suffer from interference by other 2.4-gigahertz devices.
“I’d stay away from Bluetooth for now, given the expense and hassles involved in becoming an early adopter,” Langberg said. “Instead, I’d give Bluetooth backers another year to iron out compatibility headaches and deliver compelling products at reasonable prices.”
Of course, Apple helped push USB into the mainstream. And the company seems confident it can help Bluetooth blossom.
“Apple was the first to build in Ethernet, one of the first to build in USB, the first to build in FireWire, and the first to build in 802.11 wireless networking,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at last month’s Macworld Tokyo expo. “Now we’re offering a Bluetooth solution that actually works and is easy to use.”
The Bluetooth preview software is
available for download, and the Bluetooth USB adapter is available through the Apple Store (http://www.apple.com) for $49. The Bluetooth software, which requires Mac OS X 10.1.3 or higher, automatically discovers other Bluetooth-enabled devices within its range. (Thanks to MacCentral reader Barry Clarke for alerting us to the Mercury News article.)