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Is Bluetooth Still Relevant?

I have been testing out the Jabra FreeSpeak BT 200 Bluetooth headset to see how it works. Generally speaking, I have been pretty happy with the voice quality, the form factor, and (surprisingly) the battery life. A colleague of mine saw me using the headset and made a remark to the fact that he didn’t even know that people were still pursuing Bluetooth development. This got me to thinking about whether Bluetooth is still a relevant technology.

I think that Bluetooth matters and will make it into products in the very near future, but faces some challenges that I could not fully appreciate until I started playing with the products and thinking about how I would use them in everyday life.

Problem #1: Pairing – Overall I would say that the process of “pairing”, or establishing a link between my t68i and my headset was a bit clunky, but manageable. If I had to go through that process for creating a link with every Bluetooth device I own, that might be a bit much.

Problem #2: WPAN has no UI – One of the most suprising things that I realized was that the lack of UI for WPAN has a very significant impact on how you use the devices. In addition to my t68i, I also have a Bluetooth enabled Toshiba e740. I would have liked to use my headset to dial a phone call using the address book in my PDA (that’s what WPAN is supposed to be about, right?), but I hadn’t a clue how to do it. Also, I found myself constantly having to pick up the handset to scroll through my address book or view caller ID. Without a UI to help me organize all of the devices in my little WPAN, I was not able to 1) use them all efficiently or 2) benefit from the mobility benefits associated with wireless networking. I am not sure how one could address this problem, but I am sure that it is an issue for anyone looking to integrate multiple Bluetooth products.

Problem #3: Use Case for Voice Recognition? – Given the lack of UI for my little WPAN, it seems to me that the best way for me to use all of these devices would have been via voice. It would have been nice to use simple voice commands (something to the effect of “Find Joe’s mobile phone number in my PDA and call him” would have been nice) to tell my network of devices what to do.

I think that voice might be the best way for me to interact with my wireless PAN for a couple of reasons. One, because each individual’s WPAN will be a personally-assembled federation of devices, I doubt that any one device will have a UI that is optimal for interacting with all of my devices. Second, one of the benefits of having a wireless PAN is that you don’t have to have your hands full of devices, fumbling back and forth to find the piece of information that you want.

In the end, there are a lot of user-related issues that Bluetooth needs to address before it will really appeal to a mass market. But, if the prices continue to fall and radios are integrated into more devices, I have to believe that someone will come up with a workable solution to this problem.

**Update — I found a very similarly themed article on the ZDNet website for those who are interested. Click here if you are interested.