Wish You Were Blue

Bluetooth needs apps, but developers eye other technologies

With the first bits of Bluetooth hardware trickling to market, proponents of the much-heralded short-range wireless protocol are turning their attention to software developers for much-needed application support.

But while Bluetooth supporters maintain wooing the developers is vital to the technologys success, some in the development community say theyve wearied of waiting for the technology and are concentrating on other wireless protocols.

This could mean a tough sell for the Bluetooth faithful, who are expected to place special emphasis on applications support at this weeks Bluetooth Congress in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

"We started working with [Bluetooth], and we built a bunch of stuff on it, but its one of those things for which we havent seen customer demand," said Jonathan Oakes, CEO of ThinAirApps Inc., a wireless application developer in New York, who referred to the Bluetooth Congress as a boondoggle. "We havent felt very positive about it lately. It will go down in history as the buzzword of buzzwords."

Oakes and others point not only to Bluetooths slow evolution but also to its overlap with other wireless technologies such as the 802.11b WLAN (wireless LAN) protocol. Much more widely available than Bluetooth, 802.11b has started to appear in handsets and other small devices previously considered to be in Bluetooths realm. The two technologies also compete for space in the 2.4GHz radio band.

The comparisons are not lost on Bluetooth supporters, many of whom will address the 802.11b overlap in their presentations at the conference. Bluetooth proponents argue that, while 802.11b offers 10 times the transmission rates of Bluetooth, it requires more power, is more expensive and, therefore, is not well-suited to the "personal area network" space.

But even active Bluetooth developers are acknowledging the proliferation of WLAN technology. Mobilian Corp. will demonstrate at the congress TrueRadio, which is a Bluetooth and 802.11b chip set that can operate both technologies simultaneously. An analog version is available now; a digital chip set will be available in samples by the fall, said Mobilian officials in Hillsboro, Ore.

In an effort to get past the criticisms and win over application developers that can help establish the technology, organizers of Bluetooth Congress have crafted a number of sessions focusing on either software development or case studies that prove a need for the technology.

"Were getting to the point of the first real products emerging, the infrastructure is in place, and weve got the chips and radios together," said Simon Ellis, co-chair of the Bluetooth Special Interest Groups Marketing Working Group. "The next phase is getting the applications together."

While the applications themselves may take a while, there will be some application development tools debuting at the congress.

Extended Systems Inc. will introduce two products that help users integrate Bluetooth into a Windows environment. XTNDConnect Blue Manager is an application that enables users to manage their Bluetooth devices via a "Bluetooth neighborhood" with a single interface, similar to the Network Neighborhood in Microsoft Corp.s Windows.

Due at the end of the month, Blue Manager will be sold to developers along with a software development kit for $55,000. It will be available separately for $20,000 later this year. There may be additional royalty charges.

ESI, of Boise, Idaho, is also introducing a Bluetooth Application Development Kit to help software engineers incorporate Bluetooth into existing software for Windows. Due next month, the kit will cost less than $1,000.