Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life
Living The Wireless Life
Remember the year 2000? The disputes over when the new millennium really started had just about subsided, IT techs around the world relaxed after spending all that effort preventing the infamous Y2K bug from unleashing hell upon us all, and babies born that year will thank their parents a few years from now for having a darn good method to find out how old they are. I don’t know whether you remember, but in the midst of all this, technology companies started to ramp up the hype surrounding a wireless technology named after a Danish king.
It all started back in 1998, when big names such as IBM, Nokia, and Intel formed a consortium to develop an open wireless specification invented in Sweden, called Bluetooth. As with all emerging technologies, Bluetooth chips were prohibitively expensive to produce, and after years of promoting the technology the media became a little tired of hearing such bold claims, like how shipments of Bluetooth-enabled devices would reach 1.4 billion by the year 2005. One article I vividly remember reading had The Register suggesting that it was “beginning to look like a universal con job.”
Of course, it wasn’t. It took another couple of years, but March 2002 saw Steve Jobs demonstrate Bluetooth on the Mac for the first time at the Macworld Expo in Tokyo. At the time, the functionality relied on an external D-Link adapter, but it wasn’t long before new Macs came with Bluetooth support built-in. Eighteen months later, at the Paris Expo keynote, Jobs introduced Apple’s Wireless Keyboard & Mouse, as well as the long-awaited 15″ Aluminum PowerBook G4; I ordered my new PowerBook with built-in Bluetooth hours later, bundling a wireless mouse, and both survive to this day.
Until Bluetooth came along, peripherals had to make do with infrared connectivity if they wanted to be free of data wires. Anyone who’s dealt with infrared devices will know how much fun it is to try and maintain a constant, uninterrupted connection: for example, I have fond memories of keeping my old cell phone pointed at the back of my PowerBook G3 to maintain a fifteen-minute Internet connection in the back of a car traveling at 60mph. (Don’t ask.) Compared with that, people’s first experiences with Bluetooth devices were truly liberating. Today, Bluetooth is used in millions of homes and businesses around the world. Last week, five years after the technology pundits scorned Bluetooth, I finally bought into the hype wholesale with the purchase of my latest cell phone, the Sony Ericsson W800i.
The W800i replaces my five-year-old Nokia 7110. When I bought the 7110, it didn’t even occur to me to check for Bluetooth compatibility because my PowerBook G3 wasn’t compatible, and I didn’t see it becoming compatible any time soon. My 7110 did feature an infrared port, which came in handy as I’ve already mentioned, but it stopped being useful when I bought my PowerBook G4, which omitted infrared in favor of Bluetooth. Confused?
Long story short, Bluetooth was top of my list when it came to shop for a new cell phone. I wanted to at least be able to synchronize my contacts and keep a backup on my computer, but as I soon found, the technology has come a long way since its beginnings. I won’t attempt to review my new phone in this article, as there are many in-depth reviews available elsewhere, notably at Mobique.com. There are, however, many reasons why the W800i is the perfect Bluetooth-enabled phone, so I’ll focus on those. First, I had to pair the phone with my PowerBook.
Address Book, Setup, iSync, and iCal
I did a bit of prep work even before I received my new phone. With Bluetooth, I finally had a reason to use Address Book, so I manually filled it with all of the names on my old phone’s contact list, and fleshed out the contact information with additional details and custom fields as necessary. When the phone arrived, pairing it was as simple as launching Bluetooth Setup Assistant on my Mac, selecting “mobile phone,” and following the instructions. Unexpectedly, the Assistant went as far as launching iSync, adding the phone as a device, and setting the sync preferences. One click and a minute or two later, and all of my Address Book contacts appeared on the phone.
Well, most of them. If you tick the relevant box in iSync, the phone won’t carry across contacts that don’t have a phone number associated with them. Nor will it carry across any relationships you have defined, or any custom fields. If the information doesn’t fit into one of the phone’s pre-defined fields, or more than one number of the same type or more than one address is entered in Address Book, the additional information is deemed redundant and discarded in transit. On the plus side, the numbers it does carry across use the correct icon according to type (mobile, home, work, or fax), anything you stick in the “Note:” section appears on the phone, and any data the phone discards remains intact within Address Book.
If you use iCal, iSync will also synchronize a few weeks’ worth of future (not past) calendar events along with any associated alarms, according to your settings. Although I don’t use iCal, I tried it with some test data. It raised one limitation, in that although the phone can associate an event with a location it won’t inherit this information from iCal. This is probably to be expected, as iCal calendars don’t necessarily reflect the location where events occur (Home, Work, etc.).
Exchanging files between the phone and computer over Bluetooth couldn’t be simpler. As long as the two devices can “see” each other, the Mac will automatically launch Bluetooth File Exchange when it detects an incoming file, and the same utility can be used to send files to the phone. You can send pictures taken using your phone’s camera to the Mac, you can upload Java applications or games to your phone, you can even transfer music and video files back and forth: in true Macintosh style, It Just Works, at a speed of roughly 60K/sec depending on file type.
While you can send almost anything to your phone, be aware of your phone’s limitations regarding which file types it can access. For example, while I can send this article as a text file to my phone, and even send it on as an e-mail attachment, I can’t actually read it on my phone without the use of a third-party Java application. That said, I found out a few days ago that I can use my W800i to record the phone conversation in progress, save it as an audio file in the phone’s memory, and send it to my computer over Bluetooth. Now that’s cool.
One primary reason the iPod succeeded as well as it did was that the competition was (and some would say still is) just not up to scratch. This affected Sony in particular, which after the success of its original Walkman thought that in the digital age it could simply ignore the prevailing MP3 file format entirely and force people to re-encode their digital music into a proprietary, protected ATRAC format if they wanted to listen to it on their NetMD or other such device. This plan, not helped by Sony’s shoddy encoding software, backfired seriously when consumers decided on alternative brands entirely, such as, er…Apple.
Sony seems to have learned its lesson in recent years, finally introducing music-playing devices that directly support MP3 files unencumbered by Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions, and Sony Ericsson’s Walkman range of cell phones seems no different. While the W800i does support DRM-protected content ranging from music to ringtones and even pictures, it doesn’t attempt by any means to force these restrictions on your own, existing content. As far as your content goes, the phone supports not just your MP3s but also your AAC, MP4, and M4A audio files. Hardcore iTunes Music Store fans will be disappointed to hear that the W800i won’t play their protected music purchases, but with the disappointment of Motorola’s ROKR phone and an iTunes-enabled V3 RAZR still some way off, there’s not a lot of choice in the protected-music-on-cell-phone market.
Happily, the joy of synchronizing your music with iTunes is not limited to your iPods and your FairPlay-compatible devices. A deciding factor in my purchase of the W800i was a set of AppleScripts that let me do just that. Dubbed iTuneMyWalkman, the AppleScripts synchronize those playlists whose names begin with either “iTuneMyWalkman” or “iTMW,” up to the maximum capacity of your phone’s memory. Coupled with iTunes’s Smart Playlists and Playlist Folders, covered elsewhere in this issue, the possibilities are endless.
Unfortunately, in order for iTuneMyWalkman to work, your phone’s memory stick will need to be made accessible to Mac OS X over a USB connection. This sort of defeats the point of my article, but I can at least hope that Bluetooth will feature in a future release, and I remain content in the knowledge that I didn’t have to buy a ROKR to play with iTunes. I owe Ilari Scheinin a pint.
Control, Or Be Controlled
While the Sony Ericsson W800i phone features an infrared port as well as Bluetooth connectivity, the infrared signal it generates is not nearly powerful enough to act as, say, a TV remote. That doesn’t mean the W800i is useless as a remote control, because third parties have taken Bluetooth on board and developed remote control applications that surpass the humble TV remote and focus on your computer.
The leading example, and undoubtedly one of the best mobile applications in existence, is Salling Software’s Salling Clicker for Mac. Provided that you have the client preference pane installed on your computer, and the included Java applet installed and running on your phone, you can use your phone as a remote control for any one of a number of applications on your Mac. Although Clicker is best experienced when interacting with iTunes, where you’re presented with a very iPod-like interface that even displays album covers, it supports control of such diverse applications as PowerPoint, Keynote, EyeTV, DVD Player, and the venerable VLC Media Player. Depending on your mobile device, Clicker can respond to events, and for example pause iTunes from when the phone rings until you hang up. If your favorite application is not supported, you can use AppleScript to make it work with your phone.
The W800i does come with its own media remote control software, but it’s not nearly as useful. The computer doesn’t seem to respond to any of the mapped keys, and while in some instances the phone manages to launch Keyboard Setup Assistant, the Assistant is unable to identify the phone or do anything useful with it.
Of course, you can also use your Mac to control your cell phone and, if supported, use it as a Bluetooth modem for when you’re on the move. This is barely worth mentioning beyond the fact that the functionality may be supported by your phone, because if it is, it’ll Just Work—with a little help from Bluetooth Setup Assistant.
Oh, and before people ask—I should add that while the W800i does feature a 2-megapixel camera modeled on Sony’s CyberShot range, you can’t use it as a webcam. Sorry.
I’m sure that somebody in some think tank foresaw this level of interactivity between cell phone and computer five years ago, when the Bluetooth consortium promised the booming industry we find ourselves in today. I certainly didn’t, and despite being the technophile that I am, I still find myself in awe of what the technology companies have been able to produce in such a short space of time. With almost all forms of communication freed from its wires, I would no longer be surprised to see the humble power cable transformed into wireless energy within my lifetime. Now there’s a thought…
Also in This Series
- About My Particular Macintoshes · May 2012
- From the Darkest Hour · May 2012
- Shrinking Into an Expanding World · May 2012
- Growing Up With Apple · May 2012
- Recollections of ATPM by the Plucky Comic Relief · May 2012
- Making the Leap · March 2012
- Digital > Analog > Digital · February 2012
- An Achievable Dream · February 2012
- Smart Move? · February 2012
- Complete Archive