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Understanding Bluetooth™ technology

More and more electronic devices are being advertised as "Bluetooth-enabled" or "Bluetooth compatible". Just yesterday we reviewed the Motorola Droid 2, which allows hands-free dialing over Bluetooth.

But what is Bluetooth technology and should we be making sure that every device we buy is Bluetooth-enabled?

Basically, Bluetooth is a technology that allows devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. It is an electronics "standard", which means that manufacturers that want to include this feature in their products have to adhere to specific requirements. These requirements will ensure that Bluetooth-enabled devices can recognize and interact with each other.

Bluetooth technology was first created by the Swedish electronics giant Ericsson in 1994. The word Bluetooth comes from the Viking king Harald Blatand (or Bluetooth), who united large parts of Scandinavia. It was chosen to highlight the potential benefits of linking or "unifying" electronic devices that are often built to very different specifications. (Interestingly, Bluetooth was the internal code name for the project and it was never expected to survive commercial development.)

Bluetooth-enabled devices communicate with each other using short-range radio frequency. The short-range nature of the communications makes Bluetooth technology particularly suitable for use with personal devices such as mobile phones, headsets, and portable computers. Bluetooth technology is specifically designed for low cost and low power, distinguishing it from other wireless networking technology.

Bluetooth technology is most commonly found in the use of cell phones. Bluetooth allows phone users to connect wirelessly to headsets, ear pieces, or in-car speaker units. Other popular Bluetooth-enabled products include computer mice and keyboards, printers, cameras, and even some medical equipment.

These days, Bluetooth technology is administered by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), a non-profit organization based in Kirkland, WA. The Bluetooth SIG maintains technical specifications and standards, and also promotes additional development of Bluetooth technology through its worldwide membership.

For the most part, Bluetooth remains a convenient but non-essential technology. However, it can make a big difference in two important areas: productivity and safety. For example, if you – or your kids – can’t put the phone away when you get behind the wheel of a car, then investing in a hands-free Bluetooth option is well worth the time and money.

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