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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 09:38 GMT
Life without wires
Technology analyst Bill Thompson contemplates a future without wires, where you never have to plug in a new DVD player into the TV or hook up a digital camera to your computer.

Bluetooth headset
Bluetooth headsets allow hands-free mobile calls
I was sorely disappointed yesterday evening.

On the 2151 train from London Kings Cross to Cambridge I eagerly checked my mobile phone to see which other Bluetooth devices I could find, hoping to indulge in a spot of bluejacking or bluestumbling or whatever else I could get up to, only to find that there were no other Bluetooth devices within range.

I was doubly disappointed because I had even gone to the trouble of downloading a program called bluesniff that shows what can be done to other people's Bluetooth phones, but there was nobody to play with.

It wasn't that surprising, really. Although lots of phones and a fair number of laptop computers now come fitted with Bluetooth networking, the short-range, low-power device to device network that allows earpieces to talk to phones or cameras to send pictures to computers without a cable in sight, few of us actually keep it turned on all the time.

On my phone I keep the network turned off except when I actually need it, simply because it uses a lot of battery power.

I only bother with it on my laptop when I actually want to connect to the net or transfer a file. I imagine most other Bluetooth users do the same.

Important development

Unfortunately the idea of sending messages to other people's phones in an untraceable way, (bluejacking), or copying address books from strangers (bluestumbling) is such a media-friendly idea that it has attracted a lot of attention in the past week or two.

Bill Thompson
Not having to carry around a set of cables so I can link my various digital devices together is truly transforming, and Bluetooth can deliver that
This is a shame, because it might make people think twice about using one of the most interesting and genuinely important developments in the computing field for years.

Forget all the talk about wireless hotspots and video phones. Getting rid of cables will change people's lives in far more important and interesting ways. And Bluetooth is the way to do it.

Imagine never having to plug in a digital camera or MP3 player again. Imagine not having to buy a 20 USB cable when you get a new printer. Imagine no more worries about how many Scart sockets your TV has when you buy a new games console to add to the VCR and DVD player piled up underneath it.

And imagine never again having to untangle the thin wires that link your headphones to your CD or MP3 player, and not ripping them apart when they get caught in your bicycle crossbars as you cycle across town, and I speak from bitter experience.

Having a wireless connection to the internet is certainly nice, but it is something I can do without most of the time. If I really need to check my e-mail, then I can use my mobile phone or a cybercafe.

But not having to carry around a set of cables so I can link my various digital devices together is truly transforming, and Bluetooth can deliver that.

Home impact

The main impact for me will be when I am on the move, since I often have a mobile phone, a digital camera, a laptop and a Minidisk recorder with a microphone.

Bluetooth menu
Bluetooth allows you to send information over the air
But wireless links between devices will have a massive impact at home, too, if only because it will remove the need to put the DVD player underneath your TV, or your CD player next to your amplifier.

And once we get Bluetooth speakers which do not need cables to connect them, then the way we think about home audio will change completely.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited device not yet on the market is the Bluetooth iPod. Apple's portable music player, with 10,000 songs on one hand-sized device, has already become a vital accessory for any member of the digital elite.

Add wireless networking and you no longer need a cable to the earpieces, and could even share the music you are listening to with friends or strangers on the bus or train.

Of course, they need to sort out the security stuff before we do all start using Bluetooth. It is bad enough having my address book stolen, but imagine if the strange man sitting next to me on tonight's train could look at the photos on my digital camera.

Bill Thompson is a regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital.


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