Apple Bluetooth: A Primer

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Date: Tuesday, April 9th, 2002, 02:36
Category: Archive

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is an open specification, originally developed by Ericsson, for a cutting-edge technology that “enables short-range wireless connections between desktop and laptop computers, personal digital assistants, cellular phones, printers, scanners, digital cameras and even home appliances – on a globally available band (2.4GHz) for worldwide compatibility.” Bluetooth has a range of 10 meters (33 feet) and is more susceptible to interference from walls, doors and glass than Apple’s 802.11b Airport wireless networks are. Although it does not require line-of-sight (like Infrared) it works best when all devices are in the same room.

Bluetooth can be used to create a Personal Area Networks (PAN) allowing you to connect your PowerBook to your Palm to your mobile phone, for example. Soon all the devices in your PAN will be able to carry out secure, wireless tasks without any intervention on your part whatsoever.

Much more including several screen shots to be found in this article, click on read more below…


Bluetooth Apple set the mobile computing world ablaze when it announced its support for the Bluetooth short-range wireless technology at Macworld Expo Tokyo 2002 last month. In his keynote address, CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated Bluetooth technology by hotsyncing a Palm-powered PDA to a Macintosh without wires, not revolutionary (because this can be done with Infrared) but cool nonetheless because it is fast and does not require line-of-sight.

Bluetooth is an open specification, originally developed by Ericsson, for a cutting-edge technology that “enables short-range wireless connections between desktop and laptop computers, personal digital assistants, cellular phones, printers, scanners, digital cameras and even home appliances – on a globally available band (2.4GHz) for worldwide compatibility.” Bluetooth has a range of 10 meters (33 feet) and is more susceptible to interference from walls, doors and glass than Apple’s 802.11b Airport wireless networks are. Although it does not require line-of-sight (like Infrared) it works best when all devices are in the same room.

Bluetooth can be used to create a Personal Area Networks (PAN) allowing you to connect your PowerBook to your Palm to your mobile phone, for example. Soon all the devices in your PAN will be able to carry out secure, wireless tasks without any intervention on your part whatsoever.

For example, say you are out at a business lunch with your Palm-powered PDA and several attendees beam you their business cards to you and you take some notes about a future project. When you stop back in your office to check on some paperwork, your newly updated Palm could automatically sync with your notebook computer – from your pocket – before you wisk off to a meeting down the hall.

The same goes for your Bluetooth enable mobile phone, say you take it to Miami for a weekend of partying at the Winter Music Conference. When you come back to your PAN at home your mobile phone can update both your Palm and your notebook computer with the telephone numbers of all the new friends you added to your celly’s phone book. Or even better, you can use your PowerBook to dial your BT-enabled cell phone to get Internet access while sitting on the beach in Miami.

It can also be used for pedestrian things like printing, sharing files or playing a game against a stranger seated 12 rows behind you on a commercial airline flight or train trip. Bluetooth is a hot new wireless technology that enables you to connect all of your mobile devices together – get used to hearing about it because it is The Next Big Thing in personal mobile technology.

That said, let’s take a look at Apple’s first Bluetooth offering, the D-Link DWB-120M Bluetooth USB Adapter [US$49]. The adapter itself is very small (about 1.5-inches long) and is barely taller than the USB connector it is attached to. It is also very inexpensive, at US$49 Apple is probably selling them at cost to get the units out there and in circulation, by comparison the Palm Bluetooth SD card costs a whopping US$129.

Installing the Apple USB adapter is simple, just plug it into an open USB port (the extra port on a USB keyboard is fine) and a tiny green LED on the adapter illuminates. Next you need to install the Apple Bluetooth Technology Preview software. Note: the Bluetooth software only works with Mac OS 10.1.3, so if you have been sticking with 10.1.2 because of 10.1.3’s well-documented problems with PowerBooks, you will have to upgrade.

Bluetooth

Once installed you can control and configure your Bluetooth settings by clicking on the Bluetooth icon under “Other” in the System Preferences. In the settings tab, checking “Show Bluetooth status in the menu bar” enables an odd triangular icon that centralizes some of BT’s main commands in the menu bar. Why Apple didn’t use the cool Bluetooth “B” as the icon instead of an ugly triangle is beyond me, but hey, this is only Technology Preview 1.

Bluetooth menu bar icon - yeah, the triangle.

When you click on the BT menu you get access to common functions like turning it on or off (presumably the latter will save battery power) and the self-explanatory Search For Phones. Phones that have been saved as Paired Devices appear automatically in the list, in this case “Indo68i” is my Sony Ericsson T68imobile phone. More on the T68i in an upcoming review.

Bluetooth menu

Below is the Bluetooth System Preference and its various settings which are organized under four tabs.

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Figure 1. The Settings tab. “Discoverable” allows other BT devices to see your PowerBook, analogous to turning file sharing on in Mac OS 9. This should not be done without enabling both authentication and encryption. I was surprised to find that authentication and encryption are turned off by default.

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Figure 2. The Receiving Files tab. All set to the defaults. Options for “When receiving items” are a) Accept without warning, b) Prompt for each file, and c) Refuse all. Options for When PIM (and other) items are selected include a) Save, b) Open with help application, or c) Ask.

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Figure 3. The Serial Ports tab. This is where the magic happens. When the Bluetooth card is detected in a USB port you then map it as a serial port in Network under System Preferences. Then you will have two spankin’ new serial ports available: “bluetooth-modem” and “bluetooth-pda-sync-port” depending on whether you want to communicate with a BT modem (mobile phone) or a BT Palm.

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Figure 4. The Paired Devices tab. Once you have established a connection to another BT device you have the option of saving it as a paired device. Paired devices are like favorites for hardware devices. Once paired, you don’t have to re-authenticate each time you connect. In this ca

se I have paired with my Palm i705 and Sony Ericsson T68i mobile phone.

That is just the start folks, once configured Bluetooth opens up a myriad of wireless possibilities. In my next installments I will show you how to do BT hotsync with your Palm and how to use your mobile phone as a BT modem. Stay tuned!

[Update 11/10/2002] Amazon.com is selling the Sony Ericsson T68i color, Bluetooth mobile phone for only US$50 for a limited time.

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