CES: Bluetooth arrives for car, phone, mobile devices

New products from Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, TDK and others make the wireless technology more accessible

Motorola on Monday launched a hands-free device for automobiles that uses the Bluetooth wireless networking standard, the most striking of several Bluetooth introductions at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Other new Bluetooth products include Microsoft's Bluetooth-enabled Windows CE.Net and an all-in-one communications kit from Nokia and TDK.

The Bluetooth Car Kit works similarly to a more traditional hands-free system, but connects to the phone automatically and without wires. For example, a user could enter the car while having a conversation on the mobile phone, and when the car is turned on, the conversation will automatically be switched to the in-car system. Since no wires are involved, the handset could be on a belt clip, in a pocket or purse, or anywhere in or near the car.

The kit is also compatible with any Bluetooh 1.1-based phone, eliminating the need for special attachments.

Bluetooth, a short-range wireless technology, is designed to replace the cables that traditionally connect portable electronics, peripherals and PC devices. Initiated by mobile phone company Ericsson, it carries both voice and data signals.

The kit includes the capacity for an extra 100 voice-activated numbers, on top of any included in the handset. Since the voice recognition is handled by the kit that is fixed in the car, voice activation works with handsets that don't normally support voice recognition themselves; the car kit simply feeds the number through the phone. Other features include echo cancellation and microphone noise cancellation.

Motorola said the trend in the US towards banning the use of mobile phones while driving could boost interest in hands-free systems. The company emphasised that Bluetooth's flexibility is another plus in the hands-free kit and Motorola's previously announced Bluetooth headset. "These Bluetooth accessories lay the foundation for consumers to evolve along with the technology, as future devices and applications arrive," said Ken Wasko, general manager, Companion Products and Accessories Group, Motorola's Personal Communications Sector

The car kit is scheduled for launch in the second quarter of this year, while the headset will be available by the end of March for $199 (about £139).

Microsoft launched Windows CE .Net, the latest version of its operating system for "embedded" devices like mobile phones and set-top boxes, on Monday. Windows CE .Net will ship with Bluetooth drivers pre-installed, making it easier for hardware developers to produce standardised, Bluetooth-enabled products. Fifteen vendors announced upcoming products based on CE .Net, including Fujitsu, with the I-pad mobile sales terminal; Hitachi, with a next-generation PDA; Motorola, with the EVr-8401 Enhanced TV Viewer; Samsung Information Systems America, with the Nexil wireless handheld computer; and Wyse Technology, with the Winterm 3000 line of Windows-based terminals.

TDK and Nokia launched an all-in-one kit for linking Nokia 6210 mobile phones to either a Palm PDA or a PC. The package includes a battery for the 6210 that adds Bluetooth capabilities, as well as TDK's Bluetooth USB adapter for PCs, the Blue5 attachment for the Palm V series of PDAs, or the BlueM attachment for Palm's m500 line of PDAs. Each of the products was previously available separately, but the new "Go Blue" kits are the first to include Bluetooth hardware for both a handheld and a mobile phone.

The connections can be used to make a Palm device go online wirelessly via a wireless mobile phone connection, perform a similar feat with a laptop computer, or exchange data between the phone and the computer.

The kit with the Nokia adaptor and the USB attachment retails for £185, while the Blue5 or BlueM kits sell for £229. All are available immediately.

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