More than just a strange name

What is Bluetooth, really? It has become a word in our language, but do you really understand what it is, or what it can be used for? Let’s take a look at how this amazing technology can make your life a little bit better and maybe see if we can guess where it’s going in the future.

Bluetooth is a wireless communication system. It uses radio waves to transmit data from one device to another. It has a very short range and very low power consumption. It was originally developed by a couple of engineers at the Ericsson company. The name Bluetooth comes from the name of an old Nordic king. He was, according to legend, responsible for uniting the various tribes of Vikings together.

The original plan was to develop a way to quickly transfer data between a phone and a computer without wires. This later spread into sending voice to a headset. We now see it everywhere, speakers, headphones, cars, internet of things (smart devices) and others. Bluetooth has really become an effective way to manage devices in our everyday lives.

How does it work?

Bluetooth works by first pairing your devices together with a special code. This way the two devices know and trust each other and prevents an unknown device from taking control. The data between the two devices is then transmitted across a group of frequencies that changes all the time. Think about if you had to constantly change the station on your radio to listen to your favorite song. Now this happens really fast, so you never notice the changes, and it is a small spectrum of frequencies to pick from.

The low power of the transmission also severely limits the transmission distance. While you don’t need to be able to see the transmitting device, you really can’t get much more than 30 feet away without losing the signal. Of course, if there are walls or other obstructions in the way, the distance the signal can travel will also drop.

So what can you do with it?

Wireless File Transfers

You can start with what it was originally designed for. If your computer has Bluetooth equipped then you can pair it to your phone. This will allow you to transfer pictures, songs, videos, documents, and other files between them. This can be a great way to move files around between your devices without needing to carry a cable with you. Or if you need to send a file to a friend, you can use Bluetooth to connect to their device and make the transfer. This is great if you need to transmit larger files than what can be sent in an email.

Phone Calls

Bluetooth headsets, now hear me out first. Yes, these little devices hanging from someone’s ear may have gotten a bad rap over the years, but they are really useful. They even make using your phone a bit safer since you are not holding something in your hand while you talk, which in turn allows you to keep your hands on the wheel if you happen to be driving. It also adds the convenience of not needing to pull the phone out of your pocket to answer a call. I like to use one while I am driving since it is much easier to answer a call using the headset than to use my phone, and I can hear the caller better.

A lot of new cars and car stereos are coming equipped with Bluetooth. This allows you to pair your phone to your car to make/receive phone calls and to play your music files. It is kind of taking the place of the headset. The one downside is if you are connected to the car, the phone call plays on your speakers. Which is fine, unless you are in a car full of people. It leads to a bit of the speakerphone effect.

Data Sharing

Bluetooth is what makes it possible to have a “Smartwatch” without it, the little computer on your wrist would lose almost all of its functionality. The watch pairs with your phone in order to know what time it is, display your text messages and give you calendar updates, etc. The data connection provided by Bluetooth makes all this possible.

My laptop also allows me to unlock it when my phone is nearby. It saves me from needing to type in my password all the time. This is because my computer and my phone are paired and the computer knows that my phone is my device based on their shared pairing code. This is a huge convenience factor as it makes signing in that much faster.

Wireless Headphones/Speakers

Perhaps the most popular use for Bluetooth is headphones and Speakers. The latest versions of the Bluetooth standard increased the data flow and the distance of the signal. This really made the headphones and speakers a much better product. Wireless headphones are great for working out and for running. There is no longer the worry of the wire getting caught up or tangled during your workout. I don’t know how many times I was running on a treadmill and caught the headphone wire with my hand. There were many times I sent my MP3 player and later my phone, flying across the room.

Speaker systems are great also because now you can take all the music stored on the phone or in the cloud and fill a room with the sound. Even some of the cheaper speakers are starting to sound as good as the more expensive ones. I have a $25 speaker that also doubles as a phone charger. It sounds great, it fills a small room with a lot of sound. I don’t just use it for music from my phone, I also pair it with my laptop to get better sound from movies and streaming videos.

Internet of Things

The connected and trusted nature of Bluetooth also lends itself to being the basis of a connected or smart home. Bluetooth can allow you to control such things as the lights, security system, sound systems, or whatever else can be connected to a smart home hub. The fact that the two devices have to be paired, and recognize each other when they are close, prevents someone from hijacking the signal like they can with WiFi. Also, if you use Bluetooth it is a local connection and you don’t expose you home control items to the internet.

Bottom Line

Bluetooth is still relevant and constantly changing technology. Many new uses are being found for it all the time. If you aren’t using it, you should take a look at some ways you can introduce it into your toolkit. Chances are most of the devices you have are already Bluetooth capable, might as well make it work for you.

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Have anything you have questions about, be sure to leave it in the comments. I like to make things easier to understand, so ask away. I always need inspiration for a good blog post.