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.

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, ”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.

Column: the Zire 71

Loose Wire — Zire: It’ll Set You On Fire: Palm’s newest PDA, the Zire 71, is funky, affordable and aimed squarely at the hip young crowd; But with features like a hidden camera and an MP3 player, grown-ups will be tempted to play, too

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 15 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
It’s been less than six months since I reviewed Palm’s Tungsten T — a sleek, metallic personal digital assistant that looked cool, felt cool, and had a pump-action mechanism that appealed to anyone who thought the movie Pulp Fiction was good, but didn’t have enough PDAs in it [Hand-held Power Pal, December 12, 2002]. But now Palm is back with something that makes even the Tungsten look a bit, well, dated. It’s called the Zire 71 and it should scatter any remaining fears you have about the fate of Palm.

Zire is Palm’s funky range for, in its words, “youthful professionals.” Its first offering was, well, the Zire, a simple noncolour unit that cost less than $100. Not a bad gadget, but strictly for the budget crowd. If you were a serious PDA person, you’d buy the Tungsten T, or even the phone-enabled W, both of which had important executive things like Bluetooth, recording capabilities, and, most importantly, couldn’t be confused for something your daughter or kid sister might carry around the schoolyard. [Palm seems to be sticking to this distinction by launching another Tungsten model at the same time as the Zire 71, the Tungsten C, which comes with Wi-Fi capability, allowing you to access the Internet and networks wirelessly]. The Zire 71 went on sale in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan late last month. The Tungsten C will be available in Asia by mid-May.

What the Zire 71 and Tungsten C have in common are their screens: 16-bit, 320 x 320 pixel transflective thin film transistor, or TFT, displays supporting 65,000 colours. And if that means nothing to you [it doesn’t mean much to me either] let me put it more simply. These are the best screens I’ve seen on a PDA. The Tungsten T screen was excellent, a quantum leap from its predecessors, but even that looks dated alongside the Zire’s. It’s bright, the colours sing, it can be viewed from all angles [except the back] and in bright sunshine. For those of you with Sony Clies, it’s like their screens. Only, I suspect, a bit better. Palm screens have come a long way, very quickly.

The casing is a robust mix of metal and metallic plastic. The usual four buttons line the bottom of the device, the middle up/down button replaced by a small joystick. The chip running the whole show is fast, and the Zire comes with 16 megabytes of memory — a lot more than Palm’s basic predecessors, and enough to keep most of your data comfortably aboard.

What makes the Zire stand out — and, arguably, justifies its $300 price tag — is the camera that emerges if you slide the front of the hand-held upwards. Suddenly your normal Palm screen is replaced by a display of whatever the back of the Palm is pointing at, courtesy of the digital camera lodged in the back. Select your subject and press the joystick or small shutter button and you have a passable 640 x 480-pixel colour picture. It’s a neat trick by Palm, since if you weren’t told the camera was there, you’d probably never find it. Sure, it’s not must-have in a hand-held, but once you have it you’ll find lots of important uses for it. I just can’t think of any right now.

Predictably, given that it’s aimed at youthful professionals, the Zire 71 comes with a fully functional MP3 player [to play music files downloaded from your computer], as well as the ability to watch video. The screen’s good enough to support the latter, and with headphones the sound is fine. All these functions can be handled easily using the Palm Desktop software, though I must confess to being puzzled about how to get MP3 files aboard.

Downsides? Palm still hasn’t got its cases and power buttons quite right. The power button on the Zire 71 is too close to the stylus slot, meaning you’re likely to turn the unit off while hunting for the stylus. The joystick — which also turns on the unit when pressed — sticks out a bit, too, so the Zire will power on and off every time it touches anything in your bag.

Other grumbles: Don’t expect too much from the camera. The display is very slow to redraw, meaning you get a jerky picture when you try to frame a moving subject. The shutter takes a second to act, too, so don’t expect the picture to look much like what you thought it would, unless you’re snapping a corpse. And while I suppose it’s too much to ask in a gadget that’s only $300, I really miss the Tungsten T’s Bluetooth, a wireless standard that would let me tap out e-mails and text messages on my Palm keyboard and then transmit them wirelessly to my hand-phone.

But these quibbles are minor. The Tungsten T put Palm back into a game it looked to have lost, but the Zire 71 moves it nearer the head of the class. If Palm keeps coming up with hand-helds as good and as often as this, our only concern is going to be whether to buy one now — or wait for the next pleasant surprise.