Like many Millennial technologies, the origins of Bluetooth can be traced back to the 1980s.
Swedish engineers working for Ericsson Mobile devised a short-link radio communication protocol, initially intended exclusively for wireless headsets.
Named after a 10th-century Danish king with a penchant for berries, Bluetooth transmits information across the 2.4GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical radio frequency.
That’s a congested portion of the RF spectrum, which is why Bluetooth has almost 80 dedicated channels for interference-free data transfer – and a maximum range of 160 feet.
Smartphone evolution has led to various Bluetooth uses being devised, so what can this technology be used for?
Below, we consider five popular Bluetooth uses, starting with an obvious one…
What is Bluetooth for?
Transmit audio to a third-party device
For a short period in the early Noughties, wearing a Bluetooth earpiece while out and about became the contemporary equivalent of a Filofax or a car phone.
Earpieces quickly fell from favour, as in-car connectivity advanced. Most cars on sale in the UK have Bluetooth connectivity as standard, or at least on their options lists.
Vehicles tend to offer hands-free calls, streaming music files from your device through the car’s stereo system and the dictation and narration of text messages, all via Bluetooth.
In a curiously circular turn of events, wireless earpieces are in vogue again, thanks to Bluetooth-powered Apple AirPods.
Headphones provided the earliest example of wireless Bluetooth uses, but other devices (including external speakers) can also be connected.
Wireless keyboards make typing far easier on smartphones and tablets, where on-screen keyboards halve the display space available for everything else.
It’s also possible to connect mice, printers and other wireless peripherals which are normally hardwired into desktop computers.
Fitness apps and gaming pads are popular these days – the latter often resembling existing console controllers, to standardise the gaming experience across multiple platforms.
More prosaic than gaming, but arguably more important, is Bluetooth’s ability to distribute files wirelessly.
In the days before encrypted communications platforms such as WhatsApp, Bluetooth uses often included file sharing between a phone and another digital device.
This method of data transference remains useful when you don’t have a cable handy, such as when sharing files with a new acquaintance at a professional or social event.
It must be noted that Bluetooth is relatively slow at streaming data, however.
We’ve previously discussed how to tether a smartphone to a computer, in the event of the latter being temporarily offline.
Sharing a phone’s network connection might save the day if domestic broadband goes down, since computers rarely have 4G technology built-in.
As with file transfers, Bluetooth is slower than a WiFi or USB connection, but it’s a handy substitute when cables aren’t available. It also consumes less battery than WiFi connections.
Modern laptops generally make tethering easy, and it’s a useful function to know about if you regularly travel or have plans to switch broadband providers.
Remote device control
A recent growth area for Bluetooth usage involves domestic devices like smart thermostats and security devices.
Bluetooth is often the technology used to unlock smart front doors, eliminating anything as 20th century as a key.
Such functionality increases the possible consequences of theft, which is why this technology is only recommended for use on smartphones offering biometric identification.
This has traditionally involved fingerprint recognition, though high-end devices are increasingly adopting facial recognition technology.