Bluetooth Will Provide Strong Spokes for Apples Digital Hubs

eLABorations: First Bluetooth OS X solution marks another step in wireless standard's drive for ubiquity

While Bluetooth has failed to achieve the sort of instant ubiquity promised by early vendor and analyst estimates, I believe this low-power, wireless personal networking standard has a solid future—a viewpoint rooted not only in the intrinsic worth of Bluetooth as a technology, but in the wide industry support that Bluetooth enjoys.

Bluetooth counts among its backers nearly every significant force in the fields of networking, hardware and operating systems. The IEEE--the folks who brought us the 802.11b WLAN standard--has codified the Bluetooth spec into its WPAN standard, called 802.15. Microsoft has pledged to build native support for Bluetooth into future versions of Windows, and Version 2.4 of the Linux kernel ships with experimental drivers for Bluetooth.

However, at every Bluetooth congress and conference Ive attended, one vendor has been particularly conspicuous in its absence: Apple.

In a position unique among computer makers, Apple enjoys tight control over both the hardware and software it markets, and has successfully traded on this arrangement to push new technologies such as 802.11b, Firewire and USB on to its customers—and subsequently, into the mainstream.

Thats why it was good to see Apple previewing a Bluetooth solution for OS X at MacWorld Expo in March, thereby filling the firms Bluetooth cavity. Ive been testing that solution, which is comprised of a USB Bluetooth adapter from D-Link and the OS X driver and application software to use it.

The first thing that struck me about the D-Link adapter was its small size—its only about an inch and a half long, and its wider than necessary to accommodate the USB port into which it plugs. Also striking about the D-Link adapter is its $49 price. 3Com charges $124 for its own, much larger USB Bluetooth adapters. Unfortunately for Windows and Linux users, only Mac drivers are currently available for the D-Link adapters.

I installed the second technology preview version of Apples Bluetooth software, which became available for download last month. Although the software billed as preview-level, I didnt experience any problems with it. Of course, the software doesnt do very much yet, either. I was able wirelessly to exchange files between two Bluetooth-equipped Macs at speeds around 70KB per second. The software also allows for wireless HotSync-ing of Palm handhelds and for forging links between Macs and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones.

In standard Apple software style, the Bluetooth software prevented much fiddling with settings—compared to the Bluetooth software Ive used for Windows, theres very little that a user can configure. While this interface paternalism can keep overly adventurous tweakers out of trouble, Id always rather have more configuration options than fewer.

Apple is billing its machines as digital hubs, and Bluetooth makes for great spokes. Peripherals such as Bluetooth keyboards and mice are now on their way, along with a constellation of other devices. Before too long, expect to begin seeing Bluetooth featured prominently on a Mac near you.

Who among you is using Bluetooth right now? Hows it working for you? Drop me a line at