Convergence

This article appeared as my column for Connect Magazine in September 2003.

I like being connected. Some might call it an addiction, but I think of it more as being in constant touch with important information. When I want to know something, Google stands ready. When I need a definition of a word, I turn to dictionary.com. When I think of something I want to say, I want to put it on my blog before I forget.

Satisfying my connection habit isn't always easy. For years, my only computer has been a laptop and I take it everywhere. For a long time, I'd have to find a network jack. Then a few years ago, I started using a wide area wireless card and service like the one provided by Sprint. Using the card and Sprint's service, I was connected no matter where I went. I'd jack in while waiting for a friend in a restaurant or commuting in my car-only as a passenger, of course!

There were a few problems with this solution. First, I had another PC card, another service provider, and another bill. Second, I sometimes would want to use the card in my iPAQ and I wouldn't have it with me. Also, putting a full form factor PC Card in an iPAQ requires that you use a bulky add-on holster. The whole set up is just clunky and, thus, discourages it use. The final straw was that the wireless card was a power hog. I could almost see the battery meter move on my laptop when I was using it.

I solved these problems with a nifty little Bluetooth enabled phone from Sony Ericsson (the T68i if you're curious). My hope was that my phone could also serve my data needs without any bulky wires, holsters, or antennae. The Bluetooth phone succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

If you haven't heard of Bluetooth, it's a wireless protocol for connecting computer peripherals at close range. You can think of it as a wireless kind of USB. Bluetooth has been more popular in Europe, but in recent years it has started to gain ground in the US. One day Bluetooth or its successor will be standard on every computer you buy.

My laptop and iPAQ were both Bluetooth enabled, so it was a simple matter to get both of them talking to the T68i and using the wireless Internet service on the cell phone service to connect to the Internet. I could surf the net from my laptop, my iPAQ, or both using my phone and I didn't even have to take it out of my pocket.

Solving a connectivity problem was a pretty good trick and I'd have been impressed with only that, but I found that Bluetooth made this phone handy in some other ways. The most obvious benefit was that I could now sync the phone's directory with my computer. Rather than using a crummy little keypad to enter names and numbers of the hundred or so contacts I want on my phone, I could just select them in my address book on my laptop and send them down to the phone. Of course it works both ways, when I'm using my phone and enter a new number for someone, it updates my address book on my laptop.

Another interesting use I found for it was controlling presentations. I speak frequently and had purchased a wireless presentation controller for my laptop so I could wander around the audience as I spoke. I found, however, that with the addition of a small software program, the Bluetooth connection allowed me to control the slide show using my phone. I've always got my phone with me, so now there's one less thing to forget or carry when I give a speech.

Maybe the most interesting use I found for my phone was having it indicate my presence to my computer. Because my laptop and phone are “paired” in Bluetooth parlance, my laptop knows when my phone is nearby. Since my phone is almost always on my belt, my laptop also knows when I'm nearby.

Presence is an important concept in automation. For example, if all you want is for your room lights to turn on when you come in, an infrared detector will let the controller know when someone is there. What if you want the lights and blinds in a particular configuration when you enter the room? Then the controller needs to know its you, not just someone.

There are other advantages to having your computer to know you're nearby. For example, I set up my laptop to start playing music from my collection when I enter my office. When I leave, the music stops. Even more interesting, I set up my instant messaging client so that when I'm nearby, it sets my status as “available” and when I leave the room, it sets my status as “away.” Now my friends and co-workers know when I'm in my office without me having to remember to click on menus every time I come and go. The result: no more “are you there?” emails or phone calls. People know when I'm in.

Bluetooth connectivity turned my phone from a simple voice communications device into a communications hub for my mobile life, a remote control for my computer, and proxy for my presence. The convergence of all these functions into a single device makes my life simpler and gives me less things and accounts to worry about.

Phillip J. Windley, the former CIO of Utah, is an information technology writer, speaker, and consultant. Windley writes a weblog on enterprise computing at http://www.windley.com. Contact him at phil@windley.com

Last Modified: Friday, 31-Dec-2004 21:24:53 UTC