To many mobile businesspersons, the word 'Bluetooth' is synonymous with 'wireless headset' -- you know, those Star Trek-like flashing blue earpieces you see stuck in or on someone's ear -- but the applications for this clever short-range radio technology go above and beyond hands-free chatting with your nearby cell phone.  

Today, Bluetooth can be found in many other products, including PCs, printers, GPS receivers, speakerphones, car stereos, portable music players, headphones, mice, and keyboards. And these products can help cut the cord and save you time and aggravation.

Chatty Cathys and talk-a-lot Tims

'By far the most common use for Bluetooth is in wireless headsets,' says Avi Greengart, research director for mobile devices at Current Analysis in Sterling, Va., 'but increasingly, we're using this technology to pair many other devices to help make our world less wired.'

Bluetooth-powered speakerphones, or GPS units with integrated Bluetooth, are also becoming popular wireless in-vehicle solutions, especially in states such as New York and California where it's illegal to drive with a phone up against your ear. Some auto manufacturers have added Bluetooth functionality to its car stereos to allow drivers or passengers to chat hands-free or for music streaming.

Greengart says those who use a headset at the office might also benefit from Bluetooth technology. 'If you use VoIP services on your computer, a number of wireless desktop phones and headsets let you talk without wires.'

Navigate, not frustrate

If your cell phone doesn't offer integrated GPS functionality -- to help get you from point A to point B with turn-by-turn-instructions -- it probably has built-in Bluetooth, so you can pick up an inexpensive GPS 'puck' to keep on your dashboard. When paired with mapping software on your phone, you can then receive audio and visual directions and find nearby 'points of interest' as if your phone had GPS to begin with.

'This is an ideal aftermarket option for those without the latest smartphones,' adds Greengart.

Everything but the kitchen sync

Speaking of smartphones, most users rely on the bundled USB cord to connect the device to a PC -- in order to synchronize calendar appointments, contacts, tasks and media -- but Bluetooth can replace this common practice, says Chris Silva, an analyst for wireless technologies at Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass.-headquartered technology and market research company.

'Bluetooth can in fact be used for data synchronization between smartphones, like BlackBerrys, and a Bluetooth-enabled PC, though in the informal research I've done not a lot of people aren't using it,' says Silva. Two likely reasons why this may be: you can't charge the smartphone's battery when connected via Bluetooth (as you can with USB) and the initial setup for Bluetooth connectivity might be a pain for some. 'There are a few barriers of entry -- you must first go into your Windows or Mac settings, add the device, then pair it and type in the password, and so on,' says Silva.

Other applications

  • An insurance adjuster or real estate agent might take photos with a camera phone and then wirelessly beam them to a nearby Bluetooth printer, says Greengart. 'This adds convenience, especially for those who share the same printer.'
  • Many wireless computer mice and keyboards are going Bluetooth. 'Universal compatibility means virtually any Bluetooth mouse will work with any Bluetooth-enabled PC,' says Greengart. Foldable QWERTY-based Bluetooth keyboards for use with smartphones are also an option for those who'd rather have a PC-like text input experience during meetings or school lectures.
  • Finally, Bluetooth Stereo (also referred to as A2DP) is becoming popular in today's smartphones, allowing users to listen to stereo music wirelessly on compatible headphones or speakers; when the phone rings, the music is muted or paused so the user can take the call. 'Even business-focused companies like RIM are trying to reach out to consumers, so they're offering A2DP on some of their BlackBerry smartphones," Silva says.