Friday, December 30, 2005

Bluetooth pros and cons

For those who are used to connect cell phones or handhelds via infrared (IrDA) to their notebooks or desktops, switching to Bluetooth for the first time seems quite cumbersome because it needs extra effort just to connect. Yes, Bluetooth is everywhere now but its use is still limited to cable replacement function (popular use as wireless headset), far behind its true potential. This is the status quo.

I love exploring the capability of the NEW technology (sorry, Bluetooth is not new anymore) coz I find a lot of fun with Bluetooth. More than playing with other wireless.

Here are what I think as the reasons why Bluetooth is attractive:

1) Its rich profiles allow me to
- exchange ringtone, wallpaper, business card
- do FTP-like operations (things you can do in Windows Explorer)
- use my computer speaker and mic as audio gateway
- use a wireless headset when making a VoIP call
- send fax via my cell phone
- connect to the Internet using my cell phone as modem
- sync my smartphone or PDA with my computer
- print wirelessly
- relax with wireless keyboard and mouse
- and connect to any WAN (most notably the Internet) via a Bluetooth access point.
Over time, the Bluetooth SIG adds more functions to Bluetooth, new profiles defined, new products released.

2) It doesn't require devices to be in straight (line-of-sight or LOS) position.

3) It consumes less battery that makes it favorable for small gadgets to incorporate Bluetooth.

4) Every day new Bluetooth products are coming. Bluetooth is embedded in any kind of consumer electronic device especially in computing, entertainment, and automotive.

But what hinders the folks from using Bluetooth than its traditional function as cable replacement? Maybe that's caused by:

1) The connection setup process that is perceived as complicated because it requires extra effort: device discovery, authentication and authorization, and service discovery.
Bluetooth devices turn off their Bluetooth radio as the default factory setting, so user must turn it on, let it discoverable, and assign a "public" name.
After that, user must exchange a passkey before starting a new connection.
And after a user device is authenticated, it must look for common services available in other Bluetooth device.
For example, if user A has a PDA that supports PAN profile, but user B's smartphone only supports DUN, a personal area network can not be created from the two. If indeed a particular service is supported by both devices, authorization is required to start using the service.

2) Interoperability issues. I guess this is the side effect of the freedom given to each device to support only a subset of profiles from the complete profiles outlined in the Bluetooth specification.

3) Computer-like threats like virus, spam, and bugs. Though the case is still scarce (and in most cases the cure is "turn off your Bluetooth when not in use, make your device in non-discoverable mode, or only pair with a known device"), but its publicity that resembles the computer security industry's spin keep people from using it.

4) Unfriendly software application which is a bit difficult for first-time user. Common problems: drivers conflicts, (virtual) COM ports selection, and connection loss.

In the next post, I would like to write about Windows XP SP2 generic Bluetooth and a way to override it with the drivers and application provided by the manufacturer of a Bluetooth device.

Bluetooth in Windows XP SP2