Behind the Week’s Headlines: Does Bluetooth have a future?

Research firm Gartner Inc. has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek analysis tool called The Hype Cycle. It plots the visibility of any given “”revolutionary”” technology against a time axis, noting the peaks and valleys of industry and media perception.

Though some technologies take longer than others

to ride the hype cycle, the general road map remians the same: the Technology Trigger rises through the Start of Media Infatuation, then falls into the Trough of Media Distraction only to climb to the Real Peak of Inflated Expectations – the apex of hype. What follows is a long slide into the Trough of Disillusionment, then a climb up the Slope of Enlightenment to the Plateau of Productivity, where realistic application of the technology begins.

Where short-range wireless technology Bluetooth falls on the Hype Cycle map right now depends on where you are.

Hailed as revolutionary when the specification was introduced in 1998, Bluetooth is far from living up to its advance billing, particularly in North America.

It’s partly a matter of focus, says Mike McCamon, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. In Europe, where some countries have double the cell phone adoption rate of the U.S., Bluetooth applications focused on the mobile phone market. In Asia – a region whose population isn’t shy about spending money on consumer electronics – Bluetooth is primarily used for applications like replacing cables of video game controllers. Both those regions lead North America in Bluetooth uptake.

But in North America, the focus was on the computer. And that hasn’t been the kindest market to Bluetooth, in no small part because of traction of wireless LAN technology. Wi-Fi – as the hipsters call 802.11 technology – offers a better, more seamless solution than Bluetooth, and the move toward developing networks of public access “”hot spots”” will further its lead as technology of choice for wireless networking.

Bluetooth is far from dead, though. McCamon and the SIG recognize that the nich for Bluetooth ison the consumer side, not in the enterprise. At the SIG’s Bluetooth Developers Conference late last year, McCamon launched the 5-Minute Ready initiative, a set of tools aimed at developing Bluetooth applications that work out of the box with minimal setup. It’s a focus on the user experience rather than the technical details, says McCamon. That spells consumer.

So while the road warrior will be relying on 802.11 to connect to the office VPN from an airline lounge, her daughter might well be using Bluetooth to buy and download MP3s from a kiosk at HMV.

Perhaps Bluetooth in North America is inching up the Slope of Enlightenment. It’s been said before, but useful Bluetooth applications in volume are on the horizon.

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