Bluetooth – according to the globally accepted source of all accurate knowledge – was described in 1989 and implemented in 1994.
It’s now 2019. 25 years. You’d think SOMEONE would have gotten it to work properly by now.
The dearly missed Douglas Adams, in his wonderful essay “How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet“, referred to computer scientist Bran Ferren’s explanation of “technology”:
…‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them.(see citation above)
Bluetooth TECHNOLOGY (cos it definitely isn’t a chair) is probably a little misleading as an experience, because it seems so simple – to the user it’s connecting 2 devices via a virtual wire rather than a physical one. And increasingly with device iterations such as iPhone 7 the option of using a physical wire is being taken away from us. When I recently bought a new iMac I had no choice but to opt for the Apple wireless keyboard and mouse combo.
It’s great when it works. It just doesn’t always work – and in the case of a computer whose keyboard is perpetually in the same place (about 20cm in front of the screen), with mouse typically 15-20cm to the right one has to wonder what the utility value of wireless connection is. The 2 clear downsides though are:
- You have to keep charging the battery for each device.
- It doesn’t always connect.
(we’ll leave my hatred of the Apple multi-touch Magic Mouse 2 to one side for now, because that’s not really pertinent to Bluetooth)
So to have a desktop computer with no mouse or keyboard that it can recognise is about as useful as having a hat full of owl shit. And when that situation arises out of no particular good reason or benefit tradeoff – that annoys me.
Bluetooth headphones and speakers are the next thing. Arguably marginally more useful for listening to music on one’s phone, but again subject to the same vagaries around battery life and reliable connectivity. It’s probably more marked in the headphone case because the components (at least in the ones I use) are necessarily cheaper and therefore lower quality and less reliable. Most of these devices profess to being Bluetooth Class 2 devices, which should have a typical operating range of up to 10 metres… so why does it prove nearly impossible for me to use a set of headphones to reliably connect to a phone which is in my jeans pocket? It’s a distance definitely within that sort of range, even allowing for extra signal attenuation due to a layer of denim, and possible distance adjustment due to curvature of the guts.
I get that it’s not just a virtual wire, and that there’s all sorts of encryption/security going on so devices can’t be hijacked, and that there’s many far more complex use cases, such as tethering a phone to a laptop for file transfer or sharing an internet connection.
It’s a technology that people seem to describe as “pretty good, most of the time”, and for a technology that we’re increasingly being forced into using I definitely do not think that’s good enough.
The name Bluetooth is an Anglicised version of the Scandinavian Blåtand/Blåtann (Old Norse blátǫnn), the epithet of the tenth-century king Harald Bluetooth who united dissonant Danish tribes into a single kingdom.Bluetooth/Wikipedia
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised – it’s probably as reliable as you would expect a bunch of hairy pissed-up warriors with disparate beliefs and customs who’ve been forced to work together to be. And maybe that’s why I frequently imagine taking to my headphones with a 2kg warhammer.