Tech Review – Bluetooth

I wanted to take some time and write a little post on Bluetooth. This is really just a basic discussion of what it is and what it does, not a really involved, detailed, explanation of the technology and the science behind it. The web is filled with that kind of info. I’ll try to post some links to other info sites sometime soon.

Bluetooth has been around for longer than people think. It was first developed in the mid 90’s as a device wireless standard. Essentially, it is a standardized way for different personal devices to talk to each other. It allows Phones, PDAs, Computers, Headsets, Printers, and more to all talk the same language over the same designated radio frequency. It has gone through a few different versions, the latest being version 2.1 + EDR.

However, just because they communicate using the same protocol, doesn’t mean that each device will support the other device. Each device is programmed to use different features of the Bluetooth standard. For example, a phone can support a Bluetooth Headset for phone calls, but may not support printing to a Bluetooth printer. Just because a device has Bluetooth capability, it’s up to the manufacturer of that device to decide what features are going to be enabled, and how those features work.

Here’s an example… My phone is a BlackBerry Pearl by RIM. It has Bluetooth capability for headset use. I can pair any Bluetooth headset to my phone. When paired, I can place and receive calls using the headset. However, I cannot listen to music stored on my phone through a paired headset. The reason is that the manufacturer (RIM in this case) did not program that capability into my phone. A different phone (Cingular 3125 for example..my old phone) would allow music to be played through the Bluetooth headset. It’s a function of the programming of the phone…not the headset.

So, just because your phone has dual mode bluetooth module Bluetooth capabilities, does not mean that it will automatically work with all other Bluetooth devices. They need to be programmed to use the same features of Bluetooth.

To try to make it easier to determine if different devices will work together, Bluetooth SIG (special Interest Group…the group that develops and promotes the Bluetooth standard) has developed some icons for manufacturers to use on packaging. These Icons are supposed to tell you what Bluetooth features the device uses and that should help you determine if your devices will work well together. The icons are listed here. Though I haven’t seen too many uses of the icons on packaging yet.

In the example of my phone, my phone has “Headset” capability, but not “Music” capability. Therefore, my phone would work well with a Bluetooth headset (such as the “Mini”, or “Micro”), but I would not be able to listen to music stored on my phone using a Stereo Bluetooth Headset (such as the “Stereo” unit). In my case, the main purpose of the Blackberry Pearl is messaging, not music, so I am OK with not listening to music in stereo on my phone. But other phones are marketed as “music” focused phones, and would be smart to offer stereo Bluetooth capability.

Not only do you need to determine what capabilities your device has…but the way your device USES the Bluetooth capability as well. For example, when I use a Bluetooth headset with my Blackberry Pearl phone, I can press the Multi-Function button (aka the talk button) on the headset and the phone will automatically go to Voice Dial mode. The phone will ask me who I want to call and will place that call. This is because RIM programmed the Pearl to do that when the Mulit-Function button is pressed on a linked (paired) Bluetooth Headset.

Now, if the same headset is paired to an iPhone and the MFB is pressed, nothing happens. Apple did not program the iPhone to use voice dialing with a Bluetooth Headset. The headset will work fine, but to place a call, you need to use the phone touch-pad to dial. To answer a call, you can just press the MFB.

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