EDITORIAL: I hate Bluetooth, because it hates me back

That’s right, I’m coming out as a Bluetooth hater. And it’s not just because of its mid-2000s use as an ostentatious piece of ear-jewelry for the jerk-ridden elite. Let me tell you my story.

I was an extremely early adopter of Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth itself dates back to 1998, but only in theory. I had what I believe to be the first BT-equipped phone sold by AT&T in 2002, the Siemens S55. I used it to create a “personal-area network” between my phone, PC, external GPS and PDA that actually let me do things like browse the web (ridiculously slowly), send files, and know where I was. This was far from a wireless experience, actually, because of all the power cords and external batteries, but at least once it saved me from delving into the slums of Newark where I cannot say I would have survived.

I had one of the first in-ear Bluetooth headsets, the Plantronics M3500. This thing was so heavy it actually bent the top of my ear down, and they offered “lifetime” replacements of the ear clip because the thing was so heavy it broke the ear clip. This was not the sort of thing you wanted in your ear for more than a few minutes unless crushing pain was your thing.

In 2008 I got my first Bluetooth-equipped computer, and within two months the internal Bluetooth adapter stopped working even though Windows reported it was working properly. Which was ok, since if you ever tried to pair anything in Windows Vista you know that you’d sooner poke both eyes out from behind.

By 2009, as Bluetooth technology was becoming more common, I got my first Bluetooth-equipped car. This, I figured, was where Bluetooth would really win. No clumsy earbuds, no wires, just walk into the car and you could make and take calls. Except, for some bizarre reason they put the microphone behind the steering wheel. This was sort of the opposite of noise cancellation.

In 2012 I lusted for a sexy-looking Logitech T630 mouse. By then, I’d changed computers and the new one didn’t have built-in Bluetooth. No problem, a $20 adapter from Solid Signal worked great. Or, I should say, it worked great with everything but that mouse, which continued to drop connection. It was the mouse’s fault but still.

So here I am, years later. And I am ready to admit, I hate Bluetooth, because it hates me back. I say that because I am working on yet another computer (they don’t last long in my line of work) and yesterday the Bluetooth speaker connected to it stopped working. Two hours, multiple reboots, and a three-step driver update put me back in business. The Bluetooth adapter is by Intel, certainly a well-known company, and the speaker’s a Bose Soundlink. These are not off-brands and yet somehow they forgot how to talk to each other.

In the meantime, Bluetooth in the car (I still have the same one from 2009) has ended up being largely useless. Upgrades to my phone’s operating system mean that the phone’s BT adapter goes into low power mode and unpairs from my now-ancient BT system in the car. This means 3-4 seconds of reconnecting every time I get an email, phone call, or try to get directions from Google Maps. I suppose I could have the BT system replaced if I wanted to put that kind of money into a car that’s coming on 8 years old.

So friends, I tell you at the end of this sad sad story that Bluetooth still has a long way to go. That’s pretty unfortunate for a technology which will be around 20 years next year. I can’t even say that a stock-standard installation using top-brand devices won’t have problems. This is a problem because more and more states are enacting heavy-handed laws to force people to keep their hands off their phones while driving.

And probably the saddest thing of all is I’ll still go on using Bluetooth, and I’ll keep recommending other people use it, because it’s better than being buried in wires. But folks, there has to be a better way, right?