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Bluetooth sets clock ticking

A Bluetooth industry group leader wants device makers to cut setup time for products down to less than five minutes, saying it's key to widening the appeal of the wireless technology.

It's a question of time if Bluetooth companies want to see blue skies--five minutes, an industry group leader plans to tell developers this week.

Mike McCamon, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), says he will urge SIG members at this week's Bluetooth Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., to adopt a "five-minutes-out-of-the-box" mentality. That design approach would ensure that it wouldn't take longer than just a few minutes for Bluetooth novices to start wirelessly connecting devices--any longer, and that important first impression begins to sour.

"For the market to achieve the success we believe is possible, we're going to have to deliver a 'five-minutes-out-of-the-box' experience," McCamon said. "We're going to have to be that easy. There are products out there that do this, but we need to raise the level."

At the conference, the Bluetooth SIG also intends to release some new technical wizardry and suggestions for standard ways manufacturers can add Bluetooth to products that will help them meet the five-minute time frame. McCamon declined to release any of those details.

A couple of years ago, there was nothing but blue sky for Bluetooth, a standard for creating a very powerful but very short-range wireless connection. Introduced by the mobile phone industry, where it has already established a significant presence, Bluetooth allows people to create "personal area networks" (PANs) connecting mobile phones, PCs, handheld computers, headsets and other devices. Back in 1999, analysts believed 200 million personal computers and 80 percent of all cell phones would be wirelessly connecting via Bluetooth by now.

But Bluetooth hasn't hit those numbers, not by a long shot. Instead, Bluetooth products other than cell phones remain scarce. Allied Business Intelligence (ABI) estimates that 56 million Bluetooth devices were shipped in 2001. The devices are either from consumer-electronics makers in Asia and mobile phones now circulating in Europe, McCamon said.

The short-range wireless technology isn't impossible to use, said McCamon. In fact, Bluetooth headsets for cell phones--by far the most widespread Bluetooth products--now easily fit into the five-minute parameter. The problems start to come in with more sophisticated devices such as laptops, printers and even digital cameras.

Even so, McCamon said he'll tell developers attending this week's conference that he believes companies that the SIG spent 2002 convincing to use Bluetooth--Microsoft, Toshiba and IBM among them--will start rolling out products en masse in 2003.

ABI agrees with McCamon's slightly rosy message. A recent report on Bluetooth global gains concludes that "Bluetooth has rebounded strongly in 2002 and has begun to demonstrate that it will be a technology of major strategic importance to component suppliers, equipment vendors, software developers and even service operators."

The Bluetooth developer conference itself looks likely to be relatively quiet on the product side. For instance, Microsoft, which is set to release an update to the Windows XP operating system that adds support for Bluetooth, is not planning any major product announcements.

The Windows XP update is included with a new Bluetooth keyboard-mouse combination from Microsoft, available now in stores and at Microsoft's Web site. The package will cost $159. The company will also offer a separate Bluetooth-enabled optical mouse for $89.