Draft: life with bluetooth

The following is a draft of something I’m writing. I intend for it to be a professional piece and it needs proof reading as well as cleanup for publication. As I am a very conversational writer by nature, this will take some time.

But I’m posting it here while I work on it so that it can be seen in the meantime.

This has already been revised a few times. I have a flu, and I just got home, so I know it sucks. I have a team of people mocking me in my flu-ridden haze at my inability to form a coherant thought. Go easy on me.

In case you haven’t heard, Bluetooth is a big deal.

There are some columnists and individuals I come across personally and professionally that have some grave misconceptions about Bluetooth.

The biggest mistakes I think people make is comparing it to 802.11, and knowing what hardware is needed to make it work. Sometimes people think it’s a competing technology and get wrapped up in deciding which technology is better. They think they’ll need another access point for Bluetooth devices, and they may be concerned that Bluetooth has such a short range and less bandwidth.

The truth is, Bluetooth isn’t for networking. It can do IP networking I suppose, and you can use a Bluetooth device to access a network through a host or an access point, but that isn’t really what it’s designed for. There are plenty of things it is better at things that 802.11 can’t do as easily or as elegantly. I use Bluetooth every day and I don’t own an access point. In fact, I can’t think of why I’d even need one. To me, the fact that Bluetooth is very useable ad-hoc is the reason I love it so much.

I may not have been so excited about Bluetooth if Apple hadn’t sanctioned it. Apple was laying groundwork for Bluetooth and their iSync software with a very good Bluetooth implementation in Mac OS X for quite a while. There have been times when Apple has been ahead of their time, and I was fearful of being an early adopter that would be left at the alter when the groom lost interest. But I suddenly didn’t care anymore after my first encounter with Bluetooth.

I got a new phone. I didn’t have to retype a phonebook into a mobile’s tiny keypad and a mobile’s tiny screen.

Instead, I set up pairing. This was a simple two-part process. I clicked a button. My addresses and phone numbers showed up on the phone. I moved about 200 contacts from my Mac to my T68i without punching anything into the phone itself, other than the shared key. I had just switched from a CDMA carrier (Sprint PCS) to a GSM carrier (AT&T;) so I didn’t have a SIM with my phone numbers on it. Yet I was able to just send them to the phone directly, a process which normally would have taken hours when I was using a mobile from Sprint and switched equipment.

Setting up wireless internet access over GPRS with Bluetooth was easy too. A few clicks here and there, a selecting a device from a pull-down menu was all it took. I bought a Bluetooth headset right before I left on a trip to Europe on business and used GPRS all over the place even synchronized my email Inbox from the Tube in London. I felt like I was from the future.

This was the beginning of my Bluetooth odyssey. What follows are some of the ways it has enhanced my life in cool ways.

iSync still has some maturing to do as it doesn’t support many handsets yet. I have since switched mobiles and I bought a Nokia 6310i, unsupported by iSync, but a great handset that not only has Bluetooth but a faster UI and stunning reception in locations my T68i would be searching for a signal. I thought about the Motorola T720 and other handsets too but after using Bluetooth for a few months it was simply not possible for me to get a handset that didn’t support it.

I was using a Sony Clie NR70 as my PDA. It was pretty, had a nice big display and a keyboard built-in which I never really used but thought could be handy some day. The Sony Clie also likes to fall out of my coat pocket when I lean over to tie my shoes. This results in many a dive for the precious electronics so I can break its fall and usually makes me look like a real ass. I can look like an ass just fine on my own without help from Sony.

The Clie didn’t have built-in Bluetooth, so to make my PDA talk to things, I had to use a cable, or IR. You can get a Bluetooth memory stick from Sony for about US$100, but it means I give up my memory stick slot and I keep an awful lot of data on my PDA. I really do use a PDA. I’ve been watching all the smart phones coming out of the pipeline and I can’t really say I’m impressed with any of them PDAs make poor phones and phones make poor PDAs. If my needs were less, I think I’d be fine using just the calendar on my Nokia or T68i, but I tend to have an awful lot of junk in my schedule lately.

Last week I bought a Palm Tungsten T from Palm. It’s a slick PDA, smaller than the Clie, has a high res 320×320 display, color, a navigation key that I like a lot, and a collapsible sliding mechanism to conceal or show the Graffiti handwriting area. It’s small, feels really nice, and has a fast CPU. It also matches my laptop, which wasn’t a purchasing consideration but nice regardless. I got the Palm TT, 256 megs of flash, an aluminum case, and some screen protectors for under $550. My Clie cost more than without any extras a year or so ago, so I feel like I’m really getting a great value.

I installed the Phone Link software from Palm, paired my phones, and setup GPRS with the Nokia. I also setup the Palm OS phone applications for SMS and dialing in a matter of minutes.

A lot of handhelds can get you on the Internet. But not many of them can seamlessly connect to the Internet through your mobile phone, which is in your backpack. I open my Palm, hit the email client or web browser, and I’m connected. It just works.

Last week I was in Providence working out of another office. A lot of my peers up there weren’t in my mobile’s address book, but they were synced to my Palm. A touch of the Address button, a nudge on their name and a nudge on their number, and my phone was dialing them.

With Bluetooth today I routinely send data between a Mac OS X laptop, a Windows XP desktop workstation, two mobile phones, and a PDA now without even really thinking about. I take calls on a headset connected to nothing, and no matter where I am, I can be connected to people in familiar ways with ease. I haven’t had to remember if I had a number on a device, or if I had someone’s email address handy. If it isn’t, I can fetch it without cables or an infra-red mating ritual. I almost always have my PDA and my mobile with me, so my current documents, contacts, and projects are with me at all times. I really feel a lot more productive because I’m not hunting things down constantly or wondering if I have everything. My friends who are similarly blessed can accept a contact card from me via Bluetooth directly to their phone, which happened not too long ago at a friend’s birthday party. A friend needed a phone number, so I pushed it to their phone. Easy as can be.

The information most important to me is more easily accessible than I think it could ever be the only thing I would want to add to the mix perhaps would be an iPod with Bluetooth headphones that could also chirp in my ear when a call is coming in on my mobile.

With the availability of GSM/GPRS in the United States, and my carrier doing a very rapid build-out of EDGE, reasonable bandwidth will be had everywhere I spend time. All this without wires and without more thought than a click of a button.

I haven’t had any serious problems with Bluetooth (aside from Nokia’s phone management suite not working with non-Nokia Bluetooth PC-card adapter on Win32 systems) and it has enabled me to focus more on things that are much more important than digging around for information constantly. I am quite delighted with Bluetooth, and excited that the experience can only keep getting better.

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