By Erik J. Martin
IF YOU’RE TIRED of tucking wires out of
sight, tethering your tablet to the PC simply to
swap new photos and turning off your smartphone to avoid the temptation of becoming a
distracted driver, you’re the perfect candidate
for Bluetooth, a simple solution to many modern tech-connection headaches.
A preferred wireless option
Bluetooth is a short-range wireless radio
technology standard, officially adopted in
1998 and, curiously, named after Harald
“Bluetooth” Gormsson, king of Denmark
over 1,000 years ago. This monarch united
Norway and Denmark, while Bluetooth technology was created to unite and connect cellular phones, computers and other electronic
devices as a wireless substitute for cables and
“Bluetooth is different from other wireless
technologies primarily because of its low cost,
automatic connectivity, limited range, low
power usage and simple communication protocol,” explains James Heires, a Bluetooth
device inventor and electrical engineer from
How Bluetooth works and
why you need it more than ever
Wireless made easy
Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It has a shorter range than
Technology for everyday people
Wi-Fi, it’s not limited to line of sight like infra-
red, it’s able to transmit more data than RFID
[radio frequency identification] and it’s less sus-
ceptible to radio frequency [RF] interference
than portable phones or baby monitors.”
What it all means is that Bluetooth is
ideal for smartphones, tablets, headsets, smart
watches, fitness monitors, electronic scales,
speakers, headphones, computer keyboards
and mice, and even smart luggage tags.
Mitch James, an Avondale, Arizona–based
Costco member, is true blue to Bluetooth.
“Hands-free Bluetooth connections in
my car make it safer to take or make a call.
Portable Bluetooth speakers let me take my
music or podcast or audible books more
places—like the garage, when I’m working,”
he says. “It’s easy to set up, many of the devices
come with rechargeable batteries and there
are no wires to get tangled or add clutter.”
It’s estimated that nearly 3 billion
Bluetooth-enabled devices were shipped in
2014, and by 2018 there will be more than
10 billion Bluetooth-capable gadgets, per
ABI Research. That’s a lot of happy users.
Costco member Scott Amyx, CEO of
Amyx + McKinsey, a San Francisco–
headquartered technology consulting firm, has a
few minor caveats for consumers.
“Where the frustration comes in is the
next time you want to connect. For example,
your smartphone may show the Bluetooth-enabled device you want to pair it with, but it
will not always automatically pair. To resolve
the matter, you have to disconnect and pair
again,” he advises.
Additionally, Bluetooth shares the 2. 4
GHz frequency spectrum with Wi-Fi, microwaves, portable phones and certain lights,
which can sometimes cause interference. And
relying on a radio signal makes Bluetooth susceptible to hacking or unwanted sharing—
enabling, for example, a clever hacker to make
calls using your Bluetooth phone.
Despite these shortcomings, expect to
hear more and more about Bluetooth in the
world of electronics. C
Erik J. Martin is a Chicago-area freelance
writer and blogger.
The Costco Connection
Costco offers a wide variety of consumer
electronics that use Bluetooth technology in
the warehouses and online at Costco.com.
TO GET BLUETOOTH working, you merely
have to pair two Bluetooth-enabled devices—
such as an iPhone and a wireless speaker. Using
this example, here are step-by-step instructions,
provided by Dominic Baker, technical director
for Cambridge Audio, makers of several
1. Turn on the speaker and enable Bluetooth
connectivity (if a separate setting is required).
2. Turn on your phone’s Bluetooth capability
(usually found under “Settings”); look for a list
of Bluetooth-enabled devices and select the
speaker device listed there.
3. Listen for a beep/confirmation sound from
the speaker itself, indicating success.—EJM