Taking a first Bite at Bluetooth

By Graham K. Rogers

Mac users are often first in line when it comes to newer technology. Apple borrowed the GUI and mouse technology from Xerox for one of the earliest user-friendly computers at the start of the personal computer revolution. Years later, Apple went with the universal serial bus (USB), now common on all modern personal computers, and Firewire -- for rapid data transfers; for example between digital cameras or external hard disks.

With the release of Jaguar (10.2.x), one of the added extras was Bluetooth functionality; a system to enable data transfers between external devices, wirelessly. Bluetooth uses a wireless frequency in the 2.4GHz band and is designed to work at distances of up to 10 metres.

Having seen Bluetooth demonstrated at the recent AppleWorld 2002 (in Bangkok), I was convinced that this could make a big difference to efficiency for those for whom mobility is already a necessity. Although the Mac has Bluetooth compatibility built-in to the operating system, the hardware is a small device which plugs into an available USB port (pictured here with a 10 baht coin: the Palm Bluetooth adapter is on the left).


I picked up one of these adapters, made by Planex Communications Inc., in the Siam Discovery Center for 2,500 baht. Inside the box was a CDROM so that the necessary software could also be installed on a Windows machine (98, Me, 2000 and XP). Instructions are provided in English and Chinese. It looks awfully complex.

For the Mac, plug it in.

The system needs to identify such a device; whether it be a telephone, Palm or anything else. There are two key words: Discovery, when a device searches for another Bluetooth link; and Pairing, the marriage itself. Once paired, devices will always recognise each other and the discovery process is not necessary.

As the Mac's keyboard has two USB ports, I put the device in the one not used by the mouse. When I opened System Preferences, there was a Bluetooth preference which automatically appears when the computer recognises the device. Remove the adapter and the preference is also removed.

preferences screenshot

The Bluetooth preference has four tabs for settings and this is accessed when a suitable device is used for data transfer. The computer must be Discoverable. It is also useful to allow the menubar icon to be visible. This allows quicker access to functions. Other settings do not need to be active.

The device to be paired must also be discoverable. On the Ericsson T39m I use, this is one of the menu settings; on the Palm m130, inserting the Bluetooth adapter makes it so. (The phone came with another CDROM which the Mac does not need. All of the modem settings are already included when Jaguar is installed.)

When a computer uses a standard modem to link to an internet account, once the telephone answers, there is a negotiation between the two modems before you can enter. Bluetooth also has a form of negotiation, but because the radio frequency used is open to all (as was illustrated in DTAC's offices when my Ericsson T39 kept trying to get into the Nokia of the customer next to me), you need to enter your own unique code. As this is a one-time event, and the range of this technology is about 10 metres, the password only need be simple.

I found it simpler to initiate a discovery process from the telephone. When linking the PDA to the iMac, I started the process from the Palm.

Phone and Computer
With the Bluetooth adapter in the computer and Bluetooth on, make the computer discoverable. Make the phone discoverable too and then use the Discover function. After a few seconds, it should identify the computer by name: this occurred correctly with both my iMac and the G4 at work. Agree to link the device and you will be asked to insert a password. 22 will do; or 0000.

A panel will appear on the computer asking for the password. Type it in, press enter and the devices pair. On the Mac's panel I also pressed a Pair button to bring up another dialog box concerning the Internet and the Address Book.

In the Address Book, with the Bluetooth button pressed, I can highlight a phone number and dial from the computer. A similar function exists on the Palm. Internet access via these devices requires a lot more work (in Thailand) and that is reserved for a future column.

Palm and Computer
With the Palm Bluetooth adapter kit there is a CDROM and this time it is needed. I was a bit annoyed when I started the process as it accesses Classic (System 9) and then failed to put the necessary files into the Hotsync file window. Once I tracked them down, it was a simple highlight and move process. They were installed onto the Palm on synchronisation. The Palm setup procedure is fairly clear but this must be done before inserting the adapter.

When complete, insert the adapter and click on the Bluetooth icon. There are options for pairing with Phone, Computer or LAN: several Bluetooth devices working together. This is where it begins to get a little cloudy. As a PDA can be linked in several ways (Infra Red, serial, Bluetooth) and that each of these has several devices that use specific settings, it is necessary to keep a close eye on settings. With the HotSync function too, each device or connection type will need its own settings. It is best to do these one at a time. If you want to check later, or need to alter settings, access is through the Preferences application and then through the different sections (top right of the screen).

Once the Palm itself was setup for Bluetooth operation, linking to the iMac (and the G4) was the same as linking to the phone: discovery, password, pairing.

Although at home I use the USB cradle and synchronisation is fast, I can now use Bluetooth with the G4 at work and my addressbooks, calendars and software are the same on all three devices. Bluetooth linking is dreadfully slow and a first-time connection (which will always send more data) may fail part-way through. Once up to date, later synchronisation is easier.

Palm and Phone
As with the computer link, I found it easier to initialise Pairing from the telephone and the process was similar. Data can be sent between phone and PDA. Lke the computer, the address book can be used to initiate dialling of a telephone number. As a demonstration of this to some of my students, I called one of them, with the phone in my pocket, simply by tappping on the number on the Palm's screen.

If only Internet access were so easy. . . .

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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