A Yuletide recipe for Bluetooth

There really is something to shopping over the Web at the holidays. Tuesday night I was at the mall, parked within 10 spaces of the front door and I didn't have to wait in line to pay for what I bought.


There really is something to shopping over the Web at the holidays. Tuesday night I was at the mall, parked within 10 spaces of the front door and I didn't have to wait in line to pay for what I bought. Of course, for all those folks who were e-shopping yesterday amid the AT&T WorldNet outage, you probably didn't need to hear that.

The prediction was that the Internet would slow down substantially after Thanksgiving as shoppers got online. I think the performance of the Web has been slower this week, but the AT&T snafu was brutal.

On the subject of holiday shopping: Earlier this year we published a review of the Palm V PDA as well as a comparative look at the Palm OS-based Handspring Visor and the Compaq Windows CE-based Aero 1530. The stories have led to numerous inquiries from folks wanting help deciding whether to buy a Win CE device or a Palm device this holiday season. I think it's a personal decision, so personally I would buy a Palm-based device from Handspring, 3Com or TRG long before I bought a Win CE-based handheld. The Palm OS is just that much easier to use.

$TB_QUESTION=">How's that for holiday cheer? Send us your pre-holiday technology observations."; include($DOCUMENT_ROOT."/templates/talkback_box.htm"); ?> Which brings me to the wireless connectivity initiative known as Bluetooth. Microsoft and a few other players, including 3Com and Lucent, decided this week to participate in the group driving the standard. Apparently Microsoft's absence was viewed by some as a serious barrier to acceptance of the technology. I can't fathom this perception. I can't think of a more irrelevant company with less credibility in this space than Microsoft. The Bluetooth group should have been overjoyed that Microsoft wasn't participating.

The fear of being another failure like the infrared initiative was the reason most analysts and insiders cited. Here's a clue as to why infrared failed: Hardware compatibility was awful, Microsoft's software was worse and the technology is difficult to use. I still can't understand why the infrared port on my Palm doesn't work with the one on my notebook. Furthermore, whenever I use the infrared port on my Windows 98 notebook, Windows 98 freezes entirely and I have to reset the notebook.

To use infrared effectively you have to clear the clutter between two systems and essentially line up the plastic ports 6 inches apart. That's not nearly as intuitive as pointing the remote in the general direction of the TV.

As more companies become involved in a process like Bluetooth, the more likely it will fail. The technology is already over-hyped and under-delivered. A year ago, companies were claiming product availability by this holiday season. Now they're saying two months to a year. Count on it being a lot closer to a year.

Here's a Yuletide recipe for the folks working on the Bluetooth spec: Have customers tell you exactly what they want to have happen with Bluetooth-enabled devices and how they should work in day-to-day life. Then pull out all the stops to deliver that "experience" (rather than a "technology").

Now that the Bluetooth SIG has a few more chefs in the kitchen, unless the focus is on the customer, the meal will come out cold and burnt, to much hungrier guests. - Michael Caton