A touch of gray in Bluetooth's silver lining

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Logitech Inc., a major vendor of cordless devices that use older 27MHz radio frequency technology, has introduced several Bluetooth devices since September. Bluetooth, like 802.11b or Wi-Fi technology, uses frequencies in the 2.4GHz spectrum. It has become more attractive as the installed base grows and the price of chips has declined with higher volumes, according to Alexis Richard, Logitech's product marketing manager for Bluetooth systems. But he still says it's too complicated for many users.

"We know that Bluetooth still has some limitations. I think it's still for early adopters; it is not a mainstream technology yet," Richard said. "I will not give my grandmother a Bluetooth keyboard today. I think it's really for early adopters who aspire to own a Bluetooth device, (such as) a Bluetooth phone, and want to do more with this kind of product."

One of the factors that has slowed the adoption of Bluetooth in recent years is the complexity of the technology, in which the Bluetooth specification defines basic connectivity but specific uses require separate "profiles." Not all Bluetooth-enabled devices support all the profiles, which can lead to confusion for buyers who may expect a Bluetooth PC adapter, for example, to do things it isn't set up for. And there are other issues as well.

Bluetooth's growing pains go beyond confusion over usage profiles, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney. The user interfaces for software and even the terms used in product manuals vary among different vendors, he said. Problems will persist but Bluetooth should become a mainstream technology, at least for simple uses, he said. That may happen in a year or 18 months, he said.

Eventually vendors will make the user experience more consistent. "It'll take a lot of calls to the customer service department and then they'll finally get it," Dulaney said.

Today, Bluetooth is reasonably easy to use between two products from the same vendor, and for some simple functions such as getting a headset to work with a phone. But an application such as synchronizing a phone or handheld device with a PC is still too complicated for the average consumer, Dulaney said.

And then there is the issue of cost. Bluetooth remains more expensive than 27MHz technology, though the gap has narrowed over the past year, Logitech's Richard said. The estimated street price of Logitech's Bluetooth mouse is US$99, compared to $69 for a similar product using 27MHz. The extra value customers get from Bluetooth lies in the hub Logitech supplies with the mouse and a corresponding keyboard, both introduced in October. The hub, which uses a driver from Widcomm Inc., can support a wide variety of uses, Richard said.

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