Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Bluetooth

January 2003

By Mike Gould

Bluetooth logo One of the best things about my job at the University of Michigan School of Education (SoE) is that it keeps me humble. Every time I start to think I'm the baddest geek around with all the latest tech at my fingertips, I encounter someone with even more skills and cool stuff than I have. Then I get to learn from them and the cycle starts over again, until I meet the next ubergeek.

The case in point this time around was a chance encounter with a faculty member who is deep into Bluetooth, and therein hangs a tale.

Norse Tools
But first, a bit of background. Once upon a time there was a famous 10th Century Viking king named Harald Blåtand. His name translates as "Bluetooth", but this was a result of his dark complexion and very dark hair, not problems with flossing. He united Denmark and Norway and is well thought of in those regions.

Fast forward to 1994 when Norwegian telephone manufacturing company Ericsson decided to expand the capabilities of its wireless phones and proposed a new standard for wireless communications that would link telephones to computers, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants - Palm Pilots and the like), and anything else lying around that might have something to say. In 1998 five companies, Ericsson, Nokia, IBM, Toshiba and Intel, formed a SIG (Special Interest Group) to develop and promote the protocol named Bluetooth, which, like its namesake, would unite the disparate elements. The logo, seen above, represents the initials of King Blåtand.

So here in the technical vastness of the future, circa 2002, the results of that technology are starting to appear. For the complete story go the Web site named, not surprisingly,

http://www.bluetooth.com/

Breaker, Breaker, Good Buddy
Barry Fishman is a Professor of Learning Technologies at the SoE, and as such is an early adopter of new digital toys, um, tools. (A tool is a toy you can make money with.) We happened to be chatting about the new Palm Pilots. I had needed a new one in a hurry to test something, so I ran out and bought a Palm Zire, their bottom-of-the-line no-frills jobbie (a technical term meaning "thingie"). I mentioned this to Barry and he invited me to his office to check out the new Palm he had just purchased, the top-of-the-line jobbie.

Woo hoo, talk about cool jobbies, all talking to each other. Bluetooth is starting to appear in many products, but in this instance, we are talking about the Sony-Ericsson T68i GSM wireless phone, the Palm Tungsten and the Macintosh G4 Titanium (Ti) laptop. Bluetooth comes built-in to the phone and Palm device, and is used on the Ti via a small, inexpensive broadcaster plugged into the USB port. Rumor has it that the new Mac laptops to be introduced in January of 2003 will have this built in; we'll see. Needless to say, many PC laptops have this available built-in or via an add-on.

The Sony-Ericsson phone is a mainstay in Europe, but just beginning to appear in the US. Search the Web if you can't find it at your local phone store. It is a teeny-tiny device, as are most pocket phones these days, and comes with a screen that can display pictures as well as text telling you what number you are dialing, etc. (Oops, I just said "dialing" - betraying my age here. Nobody dials any more; you thumb, punch, or click.)

The Palm Tungsten is only a bit larger than its precursors, with a jog wheel similar to that found on the Apple iPod and a pull-down shell that displays the writing area. Talk about your Swiss Army Knife; this thing does all the usual Palm stuff, address book, calendar, calculator, etc., but it is also a dictation device, slide show servant, movie monger and purveyor of PowerPoint presentations.

The Mac Ti laptop is by now familiar to most of you, as I have written extensively of it, and it is the star of stage, screen, and West Wing. It is a Swiss Army Knife as well, just bigger than the Palm, with more blades (and a 5-fold increase in price).

Action Figures
Here's what you can do with this collection:

Look up a person in your Palm address book, hit a button and it tells your phone to call the number. Transfer your calendar from your computer to your Palm to the phone. Use the Palm to surf the Web via the phone if you don't mind the small screen, or use the very big screen Ti to talk to the phone to talk to the Web. You can also use just the phone for Web surfing, but the screen is really small.

But the coolest stuff to my graphically-oriented mind is the availability of portable movies:

Or you develop that killer PowerPoint presentation on your Ti in the plane, transfer that to the Palm, and present as above. Or you film the kids birthday party and show off movies and slide shows at family gatherings, all from a device you can carry in your pocket. This may be the killer app for me; being able to show off photos without hauling my laptop around.

Thanks again to Professor Fishman for hipping me to this and helping to keep me humble.

(A quick perusal of the local ads in the Sunday A2 News reveals the Sony-Ericsson phone is available for around $250, the Palm Tungsten for around $500, and the Apple Ti laptop for $2250. Not cheap, as cutting edge tends to be.)

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