Bluetooth comes close to the wireless ideal: Just a single device for all communications |  Networking

I'VE CHANGED MY mind about Bluetooth, the short-range wireless technology standards that will allow users to connect peripherals. For example, if you had both a Bluetooth-enabled PDA (personal digital assistant) and a cell phone, you could use the cell phone as a wireless connection to send files from your PDA.

I used to think that Bluetooth was a dead end. After all, the Federal Aviation Administration wouldn't approve it for use on planes -- they still haven't -- and it collides with everything from microwave ovens to 802.11, the standard specification for wireless LANs. In addition, the chip sets are pricey.

We all saw with what tenacity the industry, particularly system OEMs and hard drive manufacturers, resisted IEEE 1394 (Firewire) because they did not want to invest in a new, albeit higher-performance, technology. Firewire is now in the Sony PlayStation, so it may have a life as a standard high-speed way to connect the modules in a home entertainment center. But IEEE 1394 as a PC technology is dead.

Nevertheless, Bluetooth will succeed for one simple reason. It almost gives us what I am now convinced we can never have: a single, all-purpose device that we can take and use everywhere.

Bluetooth allows us to have the next best thing: a virtual single device. I call it virtual because Bluetooth will give users access to the same information as if all of that information were stored on only one device.

If the only two devices we needed were a cell phone and a PDA, then surely at some point they would converge. But it is obvious that technology is not going in that direction. Instead, more and more devices are becoming digitally enabled, which in turn is giving us more -- not fewer -- services that we want to access.

At Comdex, for example, Bill Gates showed off a prototype tablet PC ostensibly for the home; it will become, among other things, a sort of command center to run the various systems in your house. And don't tell me no one is going to be so lazy as to want to control the HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) settings from their tablet rather than just getting up from their favorite chair and going over to the thermostat.

When was the last time you actually got up to change the channel on your television? I thought so.

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