Published: 30 March, 2005
READ MORE: Bluetooth
The standard is owned and managed by the Bluetooth SIG; an organisation made up of companies with an interest in the technology. Consumer recognition of Bluetooth has never been higher: a recent study by Millward Brown found that 77 percent of UK consumers were aware of the technology, though in the US that falls to 41 percent. In the UK and Japan, Bluetooth has twice the brand recognition of Wi-Fi, though in the US Bluetooth and Wi-Fi recognition is about the same. This reflects the way that Bluetooth has always been pushed as a consumer technology while, outside the US at least, Wi-Fi has been perceived more as an enterprise option - although this is now changing quickly.
A couple of recent security scares have raised the profile of Bluetooth, though the extensive coverage in the mainstream press of the new pastime of "'Toothing" (the use of Bluetooth to connect consenting adults for casual sex) has pushed the technology to centre stage.
With customer awareness high, and 19 percent of handsets in Europe Bluetooth enabled, the question is not how to get the technology out there but, how to encourage and simplify its use. Mike Foley is adamant that this is a key objective of the SIG. "I would go even further than that and say [problems with usage] is our Achilles heel - once set up the first time it works great," says Foley, "but it's still a new concept. People aren't used to having to do something to get things to work together, unless it's plugging them into each other."
The first Bluetooth improvement Foley was keen to emphasise was the introduction of EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) which can double the speed of Bluetooth connections. However, with the present challenge of simply getting people to use the Bluetooth bandwidth already available, this development seems unimportant: those of us already using Bluetooth every day might be happy to have EDR, but it's not going to make anyone decide to adopt the technology.
More important is the recent introduction of devices supporting the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, which to most users is a long way of saying "stereo sound". Wireless headphones are an obvious application for this profile: with well-designed Bluetooth headphones now available and support built into the latest iPaqs from HP, it is clear that unless a competitor technology emerges very soon this is going to be an area of explosive growth for Bluetooth. More innovative applications of the profile include an iPod attachment which allows music to be streamed to a home stereo amplifier, making the amplifier just another service available to Bluetooth devices.
Bluetooth was always envisioned as an effective way to connect to printers, but disagreements about where the intelligence should go (expensive printers or software drivers) has delayed the introduction of a working profile for printing until recently. To address the unresolved issues we now have two printing profiles: the Basic Printing Profile and the more fully-featured Hardcopy Cable Replacement Profile, though it remains to be seen which one will be more widely supported as the first compatible devices are only just becoming available. Part of the original idea for Bluetooth printing was that consumers would eventually have printers in their homes and they would be able to connect to them wirelessly. However, printers are now widely deployed in homes and are generally connected using cables. While Bluetooth has probably missed this boat, its profiles will find favour with the kind of printing booths currently deployed by Kodak for printing out photographs. Several thousand of these booths in the US have already been Bluetooth enabled, and the rest will follow.
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