Recently, I’ve read several editorials discussing the death of the short-range wireless networking standard called Bluetooth. I found these to be extremely surprising, as I think 2003 will be long remembered as the year Bluetooth finally caught on.
I don’t see how anyone can argue that Bluetooth is on its last legs. Just take a look at how many handhelds have been released this year with it built in. From Palm there’s the Tungsten T2 and T3. From HP we have the iPAQ h1945, h2215, h4155, h4355, h5155, and h5555. Sony released the Clie UX50, UX40, TG50, and NZ90. Even ASUS has put out the A620BT and Tapwave has announced the Zodiac. All of these models have Bluetooth, and I’m sure there’s a few I missed.
Perhaps some think Bluetooth is doomed because Wi-Fi has been getting so much press attention lately. These people probably have a mindset that can be best expressed with a quote from Highlander: There can be only one. This is a false argument. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been designed to do two different jobs. Wi-Fi is great for use around the home or office, but once you are more than 300 feet from an access point, the party is over. That’s where Bluetooth steps in. In partnership with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, you can access the Internet from almost anywhere, though not as fast as with Wi-Fi.
Some people are eager to see Wi-Fi added to mobile phones. I don’t see much point of this. Bluetooth can already transfer data much faster than CDMA or GPRS can, so using Wi-Fi won’t increase the speed at which you access the Internet. Mostly what using Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth will accomplish is making the phone more expensive while decreasing its battery life.
However, I’m not looking at Bluetooth through rose-colored glasses. I know it still has some problems. But the Bluetooth Special Interest Group is working on issues like interoperability and simplifying the set-up process. Also, the problems have been overstated. The longest amount of time I’ve spent getting my Bluetooth-enabled phone working with any handheld is about five minutes.
I’m sure someday we’ll have a single wireless standard that can do it all. It will use a small amount of power, allow access over a wide area, and be simple to set up. But in the mean time, Bluetooth is here now, and it isn’t going anywhere for a long time.