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What Is Bluetooth

by Michael Juntao Yuan, author of Nokia Smartphone Hacks
Bluetooth is a low-power-consumption and short-range wireless technology for personal area networks (PANs). It connects your personal electronic devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, digital cameras, audio equipments, and printers, without the clutter of cables. The Swedish telecom giant Ericsson originally developed Bluetooth. The name is inspired by King Harold Bluetooth, known for his unification of previously warring tribes from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Likewise, the Bluetooth technology was intended to unify and connect different personal electronic devices.

In This Article:

  1. What Can You Do with Bluetooth?
  2. Bluetooth Technology
  3. How to Use Bluetooth
  4. The Future of Bluetooth

With Bluetooth, you can place gadgets wherever you want, and finally have a clean office desk. But perhaps more importantly, Bluetooth saves time and improves mobility by supporting a portable network anywhere. You do not have to stop, sit down, and mess with the cables in order to use your electronics. This portable personal network is typically anchored in a smartphone or laptop computer. To fully understand the power of Bluetooth, let's first check out some common use cases for the Bluetooth technology.

What Can You Do with Bluetooth?

Supported by almost all electronics and computer vendors, Bluetooth can be found everywhere. The following is just a partial list of uses of Bluetooth today.

  • Wireless headsets: Perhaps the most widely used Bluetooth devices are the wireless headsets of mobile phones. Using these headsets, you can talk on the phone while in motion (e.g., while walking or running), without the hassle of wires. New Bluetooth headsets can be so small that they can be embedded into a pair of sunglasses. In addition to mobile phones, there are also Bluetooth headsets and speakers for portable music players like the iPod.

  • Car kits: A natural extension of the Bluetooth headset is the hands-free car kit. A Bluetooth car kit allows you to use your voice to operate the phone, and talk on the phone via the car's built-in audio system. They can also display caller IDs, caller pictures, and other call information in the dash. You never need to plug the phone into the car, which would require different connectors for different phones.

  • Keyboards and mice: Common computer accessories like keyboards and mice can be connected to the PC via Bluetooth. This helps to keep the office desk tidy. But more importantly, some Bluetooth keyboards and mice also work with smartphones and PDAs. They are essential tools for mobile email.

  • Device synchronization: Old PDAs synchronize their contact lists, calendars, and email with computers via bulky cradles. The newer generation of smartphones (and PDA phones) support synchronization via Bluetooth. If you carry multiple devices on the road, you'd probably appreciate the elimination of the cradle.

  • Wireless access points: Bluetooth can provide connectivity from devices to an internet access point. For instance, you can share a wireless internet connection from a mobile phone to a laptop via Bluetooth. This way, you can use your laptop to browse the internet whenever your phone has a signal. Compared with regular WiFi, the wireless internet via the mobile phone network (i.e., the GPRS/UTMS/EV-DO networks) is more pervasive, cheaper, and often faster.

  • Printing: With a Bluetooth-enabled printer, you can print photos or documents directly from a digital camera, a camera phone, or a laptop. This type of printer is ideal for field workers or busy professionals.

  • File transfer: Computers, including mini-computers like PDAs and smartphones, can send files to each other via Bluetooth connections. You can transfer photos from a camera phone to a computer, install smartphone applications from a computer, or exchange documents between laptops in a conference room.

  • Content provision: As mentioned earlier, Bluetooth can be used to provision photos, ringtones, and other multi-media contents to smartphones from computers. In fact, some retail stores have even installed Bluetooth booths to sell mobile-phone content to customers.

  • Handheld navigation: Bluetooth-enabled GPS receivers can be connected to PDAs, smartphones, or laptops. You can leave the GPS receiver in your pocket or backpack, and use the mapping software on the computer to navigate.

  • Remote control: Bluetooth smartphones or touch/type pads can be used as a remote control for computers (PCs and Macs). You can control PowerPoint presentations, media playback, or arbitrary applications on the computer. The smartphone screen displays information relevant to the task running on the computer. For instance, the remote control smartphone can display the current slide note during a PowerPoint presentation, or the album cover of the current MP3 song. Sony Ericsson has a free utility to turn any of their Bluetooth phones into a PC remote control. Similar software is also available for Nokia Series 40 and Series 60 smartphones.

  • Social networking: Bluetooth devices can discover and communicate with nearby devices. They can facilitate communications between strangers who happen to be in the proximity. Nokia Sensor is a free Bluetooth application for Series 60 smartphones. You can publish your personal profile, including photos, on your Bluetooth smartphone, and nearby Sensor users can then view your profile on their smartphones. You can also search for and view Sensor profiles nearby. If you find an interesting profile, you can message that person, or simply walk over to strike up a conversation.

There are many other use cases that I cannot cover in the limited space of this article. For any specific use case, it might seem that it is not a big deal to use a cable connection instead of a Bluetooth wireless connection. But if you have multiple devices that need to communicate with each other, the number of cables increases geometrically as the number of the devices does. Bluetooth becomes more and more important as we carry more and more personal gadgets. The Bluetooth solution is especially useful for smartphones, as most smartphones use non-standard and expensive data cables.

To take advantage of Bluetooth devices and applications, we need to learn a little about technology behind Bluetooth.

Nokia Smartphone Hacks

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