Rediscovering Bluetooth

When bluetooth first started to appear in laptops and devices, I used it as much as I could. I replaced everything with a wire or a cable with its bluetooth equivalent: headset, mouse, keyboard, printer, etc. Several years later, I have almost entirely given up on bluetooth for the following reasons:

  1. I couldn’t find a headset with acceptable quality. Although they probably exist now, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to walk around with a headset attached to my head anymore. Maybe I’m afraid of brain cancer, or worse, looking really silly.
  2. I’m tired of using batteries. I’ve started using rechargeable batteries at home for things like noise canceling headphones (which I wear when I write), but replacing batteries in bluetooth devices and/or recharging them got old. What’s the point of eliminating the wire when you still have to have a charger? Having an iPhone has allowed me to reduce the number of devices I carry around with me, so I’m pretty determined to reduce the number of devices I have to keep powered, as well.
  3. Bluetooth just isn’t that much better than wires and cables. The headset that comes with the iPhone is actually really nice, and far better than any bluetooth headset I’ve seen. Not only is it extremely small and portable (it’s just earbuds with a tiny built-in mic that picks up surprisingly well) — it also doesn’t require charging and allows you to listen to conversations in stereo.

That said, I have recently found my favorite bluetooth device in the world: my new car. I just bought a Nissan Versa for commuting into the office three days a week since trying to get by with just a motorcycle in the winter was getting (c)old. Although the Versa is, by any standard, a straight-up economy car, I decided to get the SL version which comes with a few nice features: continuously variable transmission (smoother ride and better fuel efficiency), the Nissan intelligent keyless system (as long as the RFID device is in your pocket, the car unlocks and starts without requiring a key), an auxiliary-in for my phone (they actually call that a feature!), 6-CD changer (which I’ll never use), and bluetooth hands-free. (I couldn’t bring myself to get a built-in navigation system since I love my Garmin devices so much, and although I love satellite radio, I decided to try to get by with podcasts.) Of course, I realize that none of this is exactly earth-shatter new technology, but for someone whose nicest car ever was a Jeep Wrangler (without power windows), it feels pretty fancy to me.

The best part of the car, other than the fuel efficiency, is definitely the bluetooth support. The entire system works with voice commands, and can accept incoming calls and make outgoing calls given either a number, or just an address book entry. On my way home from the dealership, I called three people I hadn’t talked to in months, just because I could. I think I’m going to do a much better job of staying in touch with friends and family now — at least on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Of course, with convenience comes great responsibility, and even great peril. My wife borrowed the car last night to pick up some friends in a vehicle not-yet-covered in dog hair. While she was gone, I was talking with a friend of mine about a New Years Eve party when the call suddenly dropped. A moment later, my wife came in and asked me to elaborate on something my friend had just said. As soon as she pulled into the driveway, the call switched over to the car without my friend knowing, and suddenly he was talking to my wife instead of me. Fortunately, no secrets were inadvertently divulged, but next time, I must remember to go out to the car to make the call, or turn bluetooth off. I don’t worry about the NSA listening in on my conversations, but your wife catching fragments of New Years Eve stories can be disastrously incriminating.

So with a renewed interest in bluetooth, I decided to see what else I could do with my iPhone this morning only to find that the answer is pretty much nothing. Address Book (the app) used to have the ability to send SMS messages through a paired mobile phone via bluetooth, but it doesn’t work with the iPhone. Seriously. Nokia, yes — the iPhone, no. Nor is there any way to make calls using my MacBook’s speakers through my phone. I had envisioned using my iPhone’s headset to listen to music on my Mac while making or taking calls at the same time. Nope.

Considering the fact that Apple is now selling iPhones in Walmart, it’s clear that their target market isn’t exactly those with complicated bluetooth ambitions, but come on. They own all the hardware and all the software between the Mac and the iPhone, and the only integration is through a serial cable or subscription-based MobileMe? Lame, to put it politely.

I’ve always argued that the iPhone doesn’t have to be an open platform as long as it’s a comprehensive platform. Sort of like the idea of the Benevolent Dictator. But we’re clearly not there yet. I look forward to seeing what the next iPhone firmware update will bring along with Snow Leopard. Before Apple can claim to have completely reinvented the mobile phone, they must first finish recreating what the world already had. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Flash support. Until I can watch Fail Blog videos on my phone, it ain’t the "real web."

2 thoughts on “Rediscovering Bluetooth

  1. I agree with you 100%. My first bluetooth phone was in 2004 and it came with a free headset. I loved it. The earpiece had some design flaws to the point I was able to wear it out. My next headset was great and small and I lost it. I got another similar one but never wanted to charge it and have stopped using it. Corded headset FTW.
    One type of app that I had on my G4 TiBook back then was a Caller ID app in my menu bar. I don’t know if anything like that is still around or maintained, but it was pretty cool. It’d pause iTunes when a call was received and pop up who it was. That was some cool bluetooth functionality. And didn’t require any batteries to run.
    I did just got an Eee PC for xmas and bought a tiny Bluetooth USB adapter and bluetooth mouse that runs on AAs for traveling. I’m also going to configure my phone for bluetooth tethering the eee pc when on the road. So I’m back using more Bluetooth again after kicking the habit for a long while.


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