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Blue in the Tooth

I’ve been getting a fair amount of questioning about Bluetooth lately, so I figured I’d post about why it’s so cool, how it’s not entirely geeky, and what I do with it.

The Good

The cool part about Bluetooth is that it’s just supposed to make peripherals easier. Phone, keyboard, mouse — all of the low-bandwidth stuff you use locally. Apple compares it to USB as WiFi is to Ethernet — a fair comparison. All that crap on your desk that needs to talk amongst itself shouldn’t also have to produce a pile of cables and hubs.

The Bad

Apple’s been onboard with Bluetooth for years — they were the first to put it in their machines (just like USB, FireWire, AirPort, etc. — I try to step away from evangelizing Mac but sometimes you just can’t help it. Like Steve Jobs said recently, “There’s a very strong DNA within Apple, and that’s about taking state-of-the-art technology and making it easy for people.”)

I’m not quite sure why it hasn’t taken off more than it has. This is tech that should have been gobbled up by early adopters three or four years ago, whereas even now I feel like an early adopter. My hunch is that Windows’ implementation of it scared some people off. While I haven’t directly used their Bluetooth hookups, the only evidence I have of this is the answer to the question, “How many people do you know who use Bluetooth on Windows?”

The Rub

What do I do with Bluetooth? Initially, I got a Sony Ericsson T68i on a good deal from T-Mobile and Amazon and quickly followed up with a D-Link USB Bluetooth dongle from the Apple Store (which I still have, by the way, so if you want a used one…) I only really used it to run iSync (speaking of which, compatibility list here) and get my calendars and address book onto the phone (and the occasional wallpaper or ringtone). Novel, but not particularly useful given that I had to fish out the dongle and plug it in before doing anything.

Since I got my new PowerBook in February, though, with built-in Bluetooth (2.0 no less, though I haven’t seen any practical gadgets that use it yet), I’ve grabbed a bunch of new goodies:

  • Salling Clicker: more novelty, with things like proximity sensing for pausing your music or starting your screensaver when you walk away and using the phone as a remote control for media players
  • Internet Access: once I got a camera attachment for my phone, I started using it to moblog but I am also able to use the phone as a wireless modem to get the laptop online at about 56kbps. Nothing beats access (albeit a little slow) from just about anywhere I have cell access. T-Mobile has a nice data plan add-on for $20/month.
  • Bluetooth Headset: arriving this week; should be able to use it with both my cell and the PowerBook, for Skype, iChat, dictating, etc.
  • BluePhoneElite: one of my best uses of $20, this gives me caller ID (with pictures from my Address Book!), call history, volume control, signal and battery meters, and SMS interaction all from the desktop while the phone stays in my pocket. Once my Bluetooth headset arrives this week, I probably won’t ever take the phone out of my pocket (nor my hands off the keyboard).
  • Mighty Mouse: though it doesn’t exist in Bluetooth form yet, as soon as it comes out, I’m snapping one up. Something about pulling the laptop and mouse out of my bag and just using them appeals to me.

I tried to think about what I might use Bluetooth for in the near future, but after this headset is setup, there’s not a whole lot I could ask for. I’m pretty happy and Apple really does make it easy to setup.

Hardware wise, all of the current PowerBooks have it built-in and I believe the iBooks do as well. Recent iBooks that don’t come with it have an internal slot that a $50 upgrade can fill for dongle-free Bluetoothing. The big desktops have it standard but it’s an option on the minis.

As for cell providers, T-Mobile seems to carry a lot of models (especially Motorola) but I’ve heard Verizon has intentionally crippled Bluetooth functionality in phones for some unknown reason. A lot of Palm Pilots (most notably, the Tungsten line) have Bluetooth as well.

Happy Bluetoothing, and post a comment if you have any questions!