Tag Archives: Headset

Bluetooth’s Missing Suitcase

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Remember when Samsonite launched the Bluetooth suitcase? No, well, that’s not surprising, because they didn’t. This week’s WSJ.com column is (subscription only, I’m afraid) the first in a series about finding stuff in the real world. I started with a hunt for the Bluetooth suitcase, first announced in 2002 (and weirdly, still up on the Samsonite website):

I got all excited five years ago when Samsonite announced a suitcase that used Bluetooth, a wireless technology more commonly used to connect cellphones to headsets, to carry data about the owner and alert him or her if the case was moved. Hooray, I thought: Now we’ll all know where our luggage is. Unfortunately not: The Samsonite Hardlite never saw the light of day for technical reasons, although the company says it’s still looking at other ways to identify and secure luggage.

This is about as close as we came to the idea that the wireless technologies we now take for granted — Bluetooth, WiFi, infrared, cellphones, GPS — would actually help us stay in touch with the important things in life, like our stuff. Which is a shame. I would love to be able to ping all the Bluetooth gadgets in my house via my cellphone and know where they are. One Bluetooth headset has been missing for years.

I then take a look at what’s available. But what intrigued me was: what happened to the Samsonite case? This is what Samsonite PR came up with:

It seems from what I can gather this collection was in the end not launched. The reasons seem to be quite numerous – the cost to the consumer would have been significant, a lot of mobile phones were not compatible with the technology at the time, and today would still require additional memory.

Another person I contacted had this to say:

Basically the project did not make it to the market because of several reasons.

About 10 pieces were made for field testing, but there were issues on the standardisation. At the time Bluetooth technology was still at an early development stage and not yet standardised, so for a product to be able to ‘talk’ to another wasn’t that straight forward and obvious. Therefore after the field testing it was decided that the benefits for the consumer just weren’t sufficient. At the moment there are no plans to resurrect the project.

Which I found interesting. To me, back in 2002, the suitcase made all sorts of sense. Bluetooth, cellphones, missing suitcases: who wouldn’t have gone for something like that? But Bluetooth has always been a bit of a devil when it comes to anything other than really basic connectivity. Even Mac users have been heard to complain of connecting Bluetooth devices to their laptops.

Would today’s Bluetooth be able to cope with with this kind of concept now? Is it already doing so? Or would security concerns — how long would it take before someone puts together software to reprogram the data on a Samsonite suitcase so it gets diverted to Luang Prabang?

Phones Aren’t About Telephony

Skype is a powerful tool because it’s found its way into the hands of people who need it most — ordinary folk. Now it and the companies that make devices to use Skype on need to understand that it’s not about telephony anymore, if it ever was. It’s about two or more people sharing each others’ presence. Now we need the products to make that happen.

I was chatting with someone last night, a gent in his early 60s from LA, who should have retired but decided to take on one more project, in Hong Kong. He was in two minds about it because it would mean a year away from his wife, but he was persuaded because he knew Skype would keep him in touch. Of course it could be any VoIP tool, but the point here is that Skype was the first to cross the threshold into this market because it was easier (and worked better) than all the others at the time. Now the guy can chat with his wife every night and being apart is bearable and not making him too poor.

But he was still using it as a phone: Call the other person up, chat and then hang up. Had he ever thought about just leaving the line open, I asked him? Why would I do that? he replied. Because it won’t cost you anything, and then you’ll hear the sounds of home, which in a way is what you’re really missing. Your wife banging around in the kitchen, the kids arguing, a dog barking, the sound of the wood pigeon in the garden (OK, that’s more my memory of home than his. Not sure they have wood pigeons in LA.)

I then realised that actually there would be a great line of products here. Wireless devices that you could place around the house, outside, some that are just microphones picking up sound, and others that also serve as speakerphones, so his wife can just wander around and, when she wants to, chat as well. Of course, a Bluetooth headset might do the trick, and maybe there are some wireless handsets that might work. I’ve done a quick search and not found any obvious candidates. Most seem to assume you want to use Skype as a phone. But Skype is not really about phones anymore. It’s about presence — on one side, showing other people whether you’re available, etc, and on the other, allowing you to teleport yourself to the person you’re with without the old restrictions of the phone: cost, the structured nature of phone conversation, having to press a device to your ear.

Manufacturers, it’s true, are beginning to wake up to the idea that we don’t use our devices in the way, or the place, they’re designed for. Take the percushion pillow phone, for example, which finally solves that problem of trying to have a conversation with someone while you’re trying to get to sleep. That’s a good start. Now lets see devices that use sound and vision to make anyone, including my new homesick friend, to really feel they’re home.

When Services Go Pro, Reach for Your Gun

Alarming and confusing news and views concerning Skype’s announcement of its new pricing strategy. Here’s a summary.

Key elements trumpeted in Skype’s press release (the most detailed information is here, courtesy of SkypeJournal):

  • Premium subscription package called Skype Pro, which includes free Skype Voicemail (€15 previously) and €30 off a SkypeIn number (previously €30). Cost: €2 per month
  • Removes per minute charges for SkypeOut calls (i.e. calls to ordinary phones) so long as they’re landlines and to the same country you’re in at the time of calling. I.e: unlimited calling, so long as it’s not to mobile phones.
  • Every SkypeOut (and I think SkypeIn) call, whether it’s to voicemail or not, incurs a separate connection fee of 0.039 Euro, excl VAT (5 U.S. cents). (This does not apply to existing unlimited calling plans if you’re calling within your specific country.)
  • Some SkypeOut destinations have been reduced (about seven, including Malaysia) for Skype Pro users to the Global Rate of 1.7 cents per minute).

Skype claims this option “offers our users more for less because they can buy additional Skype paid for products but for a smaller cost”. The service will be phased in from now in Europe, and, for now, will be available alongside the traditional service. (For Asian readers, Hong kong, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia are next.)

What does this mean for you? Well, of course it depends on what kind of user you are, and where you’re calling.

  • You’re going to be paying more per call than you were before, because of the connection fee.
  • If you’re an international caller, it’s going to be harder to calculate your potential savings/losses. I must confess I’m still trying to figure this out.
  • Jean Mercier, based in Belgium, has done some sums on his calling habits, and concludes that “occasional SkypeOut users will pay for the heavy SkypeOut users”. In other words, if you don’t use it a lot, you’ll end up paying more than you would before. HIs conclusion: “I really am astounded, and not in a positive way!”
  • Olga Kharif at BusinessWeek says it’s part of general raising of VOIP rates. “Sure, they need to find a way to make money. But I think raising prices is a big mistake. In the past, users switched to VoIP because it was the cheapest calling option around. When it’s no longer that, customers might no longer hurry to abandon their traditional telecom services providers for upstarts.”
  • Phil Wolff of SkypeJournal says you’ll be better off if you SkypeOut an average 4.3 minutes per day, or a couple of hours per month. This does not seem to include the connection fee in the calculation, however, and may not be relevant for international calls. I’m checking this with Phil.
  • For Paul Kapustka of GigaOM, the reasons behind the move are simple: Skype is in trouble. “Just add some cash to the bottom line, quickly! For customers, the question is — do you want eBay to be your phone company?”
  • PhoneBoy says that “what they are really doing is raising the price”.

My conclusions: Skype has been a revolution for a lot of my readers and friends who aren’t usually all that enamoured of technology. They’ve bought a headset, got a cable connection, installed the software, bought some credits, all because of the savings Skype offers. Many of them also enjoy the benefits of being online in a buddy list.

But what if Skype is no longer the cheapest option? Or if they feel they’re being lied to by press releases that are less than forthcoming about the real deal? Will they turn their newfound confidence in technology to switch to something cheaper and take all their buddies with them?

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Headsets Get the Bling Treatment

A few weeks back on my WSJ.com column (subscription only; I’ll update you when it’s out on the BBC World Service) I explored the world of bling cellphones, including the Vertu range, the Kathrine Baumann “Wireless Wardrobe” Collection (inexplicably that collection is now password-protected since I last visited), the fancy wooden Mobiado range, and the diamond-encrusted, gold-set Samsung. I guess it was inevitable that headsets would start getting the bling treatment, and here’s the first: the Dimante Pink Bluetooth Headset (via Red Ferret:

Hedset

The Pama P7008 Bluetooth headset comes with the usual Bluetooth Version 1.2 compliancy, with Headset & Handsfree Profiles, One Button action, up to 5 hours talk time and 200 hours standby, weighs “just 12.7g”, and is the Ideal Bluetooth Hands Free Kit Gift for the Woman in your Life! (it says here).

Frankly I feel insulted. Why can’t us fellas have one? The only problem I can see is that with all that bling on your ear, aren’t you becoming a walking mugging invitation?

Of course you might be asking yourself why a diamond-encrusted handsfree weighs the same as an ordinary headset and costs about the same (£47.95, or $84) as an ordinary headset. That’s because of the $17 Crystal Bling Design Kit which lets you jazz up your accessories — from cellphones to iPods — with little bits of shiny crap, sorry, Crystal Diamante. I think I’m going to bling up my Treo 650.

Bluethievery

Another kind of Bluesnarfing: The Times Online reported yesterday that

[t]hieves are using Bluetooth technology to scour parked cars for mobile phones and laptop computers, police believe. The wireless software allows users to detect any mobile phones, PCs, palmtop computers and camcorders that are equipped with Bluetooth within a radius of 50m (160ft).

Of course this is not completely true: The gadgets must be turned on, have their Bluetooth activated and be ‘discoverable’ (although if I recall correctly there are ways around this last bit). I’m guessing that this is the same story reported in engadget last week that quoted the South Manchester Reporter as saying 

crooks in south Manchester are targeting parked cars that contain high-end laptops or cellphones, which they find by carrying a Bluetooth phone as they stroll past the cars. Local police claim that at least 20 recent thefts involved Bluetooth. While we suppose there may be some credence to this, we think it’s equally possible that some laptop owners forgot that they had left their computer sitting on the back seat, or that the thieves took a chance on certain car models that are favored by those with the cash to spend on expensive gear.

It certainly does raise the question: How do the police know the thieves are using Bluetooth? Have they arrested some and asked them how they knew there was a device inside the car? How would they know which car is emitting a Bluetooth signal, unless it’s the only one in a 10 meter (or greater) radius? (In which case, why not break into it anyway? You’re probably the only people around.) And, especially if the car is Bluetooth-enabled, as many cars are, how would the thieves know what they’re looking for? Unless the Bluetooth-enabled device has the gadget name as its ID, rather than a user-assigned one — mine’s called ‘Hands Off’ — the thieves are likely to be none the wiser about whether they’re looking for a Bluetooth-enabled car, video, phone, computer or a headset. (Of course many devices nowadays don’t allow you to change the ID name: Another good reason to allow this.)

Here’s the original report (which charmingly refers to the wireless standard as blue-tooth, which is why it doesn’t pop up in search engines). Here’s an excerpt:

Thieves are using new ‘blue-tooth’ phones to detect whether motorists have left mobiles or laptops in their cars. The ‘blue-tooth’ facility enables thieves to locate compatible electrical items – even if they are hidden away in a boot or glove compartment. Police say the new technology is allowing criminals to selectively steal from cars with expensive laptops and mobile phones which also have ‘blue-tooth’ facilities.

In Chorlton, police estimate that out of the last 35 recorded vehicle crimes, at least 20 involved the use of these high-tech phones. Sergeant Imran Abbasi, of Chorlton Police, said: “It’s become quite endemic in Chorlton. They’re not picking cars out at random – in many cases they know there’s something in there.”

I’m skeptical, but not completely disbelieving. I can understand why this might work, or at least narrow down the range of options for a thief. Next time I’m in a car park I’m going to get out my Kensington WiFi Finder Plus (which searches for Bluetooth too) and see what’s worth nicking. I mean connecting with.

Bluetooth Jackets For The Hip – And The Hip-Replaced

Thanks to Martin Herfurt for this: A jacket that, via Bluetooth, doubles as an entertainment centre, complete with (1) hands-free set with microphone in the collar and voice recognition, (2) integrated headphone connection, (3) flexible keyboard embodied into the material and (4) docking station for an MP3 player with a Bluetooth headset:

The HUB-Jacket comes with 128 Megabyte memory offers enough storage capacity for two hours of music. The MP3 files are loaded into the module from a PC via a USB cable. The fabric keyboard woven into the jacket’s left-hand sleeve “can be comfortably operated even when wearing gloves”. All the electronic connections “are sewn directly into the textile material. They are thus out of sight, robust and enable total freedom of movement”. If this is not enough for you, a “helmet with integrated headphones is also available as an option”. The Bluetooth module in the player allows the user to operate a mobile phone. And, in case you’re wondering, the electronic hardware “is tough enough to withstand repeated falls and washing sessions”. The HUB is part of O’Neill’s Winter Collection and costs 500 euros.

Actually, the HUB-Jacket ain’t alone. There’s the Memswear prototype from my Singaporean neighbours up the road which senses when the owner — presumably an elderly person — has taken a fall and puts in an emergency phone call via Bluetooth. (Here’s the original CNN story). And Nike has developed a Comm-Jacket which, according to DPA, “fitted with an integrated microphone and earplugs and a plug for a walkie-talkie”.

Bluetooth Away From The Cellphone

Is Bluetooth finally moving out of the world of mobile phones?

The Gadgeteer feels so, highlighting some new toys including two pairs of Bluetooth headphones and a Bluetooth mouse. Here is their review of Bluetake’s i-PHONO BT420EX stereo headphones and BT500 Bluetooth Mouse, and here is Sonorix’s Bluetooth audio player

What’s interesting, too, is that some of these are from Korea (only Bluetake is not, being Taiwanese). Korea and Japan have been slow to adopt Bluetooth, partly, I guess, because few of their companies are part of the Bluetooth consortium, partly because of different usage patterns.

I met a few Korean companies at CommunicAsia trying to change that, in particular SeeCode, which is selling a range of Bluetooth gadgets, not all of them phone-oriented.  None of them appear to be available on their website yet, but (according to their brochure I picked up, which relies on a charming version of English I’m not too familiar with) they include Viasync, which seems to be a sort of Bluetooth conference call device cum VoIP phone cum car handsfree, and the Viodio, which seems to be an MP3 player with a Bluetooth wireless headset (although, somewhat confusingly, the picture shows someone using very wireless-less earphones.)

The Yoga Of Cellphone Reception

I love this posting, which seems in some way to lead on from my earlier posts about Mobile Manners:

Rael Dornfest posts about the problems of getting a decent signals indoors on MobileWhack (via blueserker) and explains how he has dealt with the ‘Last Yard’, where ”mobile users [are] scrambling for the nearest exit or pressed up against the windows in a particular direction–that depending on the direction of their carrier’s nearest cell tower.” His solution: a wireless headset and the cellphone resting on a window ledge, or wherever the signal is clearest. I know the feeling. My 27th floor office/home is not the kindest to reception, which is why I love SMS.

Of course, there are funny looks, prompting the obvious question: Why have we come to the point where technology helps us communicate better, but we have to contort ourselves into strange positions to do it?

Nokia’s New Keyboard, And The Limitations Of Bluetooth

Nokia are getting into the keyboard game, clearly hoping their new range of mobile phones are going to replace PDAs (via blueserker)

The Nokia Wireless Keyboard SU-8W uses Bluetooth and will work with the Nokia 7610, Nokia 6260 and Nokia 6630 mobile phones. In the future, Nokia says, more phones may be added to this list. The keyboard is expected to be available in the last quarter of 2004.

Nothing surprising here, except the Bluetooth element. Why won’t the keyboard work with other Bluetooth phones? Some writers have pointed out the keyboard uses the Bluetooth Human Interface Device, or HID, profile, meaning, according to mobileburn.com, ”that it should work with many other Bluetooth devices that also support that profile, such as PCs and PDAs”.

And why, according to Nokia, won’t it work at the same time as a Bluetooth headset? Nokia says, You can only use one enhancement using Bluetooth wireless technology at a time.” Huh? I thought the whole point of Bluetooth was that it would hook up all sorts of gadgets without limit. In my uninformed world, headsets used specific Bluetooth profiles — Handsfree and Headset — while keyboards and whatnot used the HID profile.

Conclusion: Either manufacturers are not implementing Bluetooth properly — intentionally, perhaps, to limit users to their brand and new models — or Bluetooth is not as good as it’s supposed to be. Either way, I hear more warning bells sounding for the future of the wireless standard.

Logitech, the Bluetooth Hubster

I’m still playing with mine, but on the surface Logitech look like they may be the first to fashion a real Bluetooth hub for the PC. The problem has been to develop a dongle, or some other widget, that can easily turn a non-Bluetooth PC into one that can easily recognise and deal with other Bluetooth devices. I’ve tried a lot and have yet to find one that works seamlessly. (The word ‘seamlessly’ and ‘Bluetooth’ don’t usually appear in the same sentence.)

Meanwhile Logitech has announced that its own candidate, the Bluetooth Wireless Hub, now works with the latest Bluetooth phones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia; new PDAs from Toshiba, HP, and palmOne; as well as hands-free headsets from Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia. It’s worth checking out, although one word of warning: As far as I can work out, the hub will only work if you connect it directly to a USB port — and not to an external hub. If your PC only has one or two USB ports, and you’re using a lot of (non Bluetooth) USB gadgets, that can be a major no-no.