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3/23/2005
05:10 PM
Mike Elgan
Mike Elgan
Commentary
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The Death of Bluetooth? I Don't Think So!

Everyone's talking about the coming death of Bluetooth. The exact same predictions happened about five years ago, when engineering types proclaimed the death of Bluetooth in favor of Wi-Fi, citing many of the same problems with Bluetooth. They're wrong again, and for the same reason.

Everyone's talking about the coming death of Bluetooth.

Wireless USB, which should start showing up in real products in about a year, will "kill" Bluetooth, according to researchers and engineers at Intel and elsewhere.

Wireless USB, which will involve a universal short-range wireless USB dongle you plug into a PC, will be faster, more reliable and easier to install and use than Bluetooth, according to the experts. The spec on it is being completed as I type this.

The exact same predictions happened about five years ago, when engineering types proclaimed the death of Bluetooth in favor of Wi-Fi, citing many of the same problems with Bluetooth.

They're wrong again, and for the same reason: Naysayers assume Bluetooth is a cable-replacement technology for PCs. Yes, Wireless USB sounds great, and may well replace PC cables, wirelessly connecting keyboards, mice, web cams and cradles. But that's not what most people use Bluetooth for.

Bluetooth is the best thing we have -- and the best thing we're going to have in the foreseeable future -- to connect other things at short range.

Bluetooth is most useful for connecting things to your cell phone -- headsets, printers, keyboards, etc., -- and in the near future, digital cameras, vending machines and other cell phones.

And we're witnessing an explosion in the use, applications and cost-reduction of small, mobile devices. Most of these new gadgets will not have USB ports. Bluetooth will connect them.

Bluetooth is one of those technologies designed to be a stop-gap, but ends up because of popular demand (for applications and peripherals that support it) being more important than the technologies designed to replace it. You know, like Windows, which was a stop-gap operating system between DOS and OS/2.

If wireless USB is extremely successful -- and I hope it will be -- it will become the cable-replacement technology engineers have long dreamed of: fast enough for graphics, easy enough for consumers. But Bluetooth will be with us for years and years as the preferred technology for wirelessly connecting our gadgets at short range.

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