Saturday, September 30, 2006
Caller ID at the Flick of a Wrist Via Bluetooth

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 1, 2006; F06

It's a moment that many of us have experienced: The cellphone, deep in your pocket or stuffed in an out-of-reach briefcase, starts to ring as you're driving down the road. It could just be a friend, calling to gossip. Or it might be someone at the office, warning you that the meeting you're headed to has been canceled.

If only there were a way of knowing who was calling without having to reach for the phone.

Wristwatch maker Fossil Inc. has come up with a way, using wireless Bluetooth technology.

A small screen on the face of two new Bluetooth watches for men -- which are priced at $200 and $250 -- displays the name of your caller (if it's someone in your phone's contact list) or the phone number. Tap a button and you can send the call straight to voice mail.

No. You can't answer the call and speak into the watch -- at least not yet. But you can set your watch to vibrate when caller information comes in.

Bluetooth technology -- which allows data to be transmitted to devices within 30 feet of each other -- has been around for more than five years. But until hands-free cellphone laws started popping up around the country, the technology had never really grown past wireless mice and keyboards.

At the end of last year, there were about 500 million Bluetooth devices in use. The consortium of companies that develop the standard behind Bluetooth expects that figure to double to 1 billion by the end of this year.

Now that consumers are increasingly becoming familiar with Bluetooth, makers of other devices -- such as Fossil and its new line of watches -- are experimenting with unique uses of the technology.

Bluetooth is built into the latest version of Lego's programmable robot kit, Mindstorms ($250, ). The toy robots that kids build can communicate and interact with each other via the technology's 30-foot range. Sunglass manufacturer Oakley has put Bluetooth into its $250 Razrwire glasses, creating a headset that works with Motorola cellphones ( ).

Some hack-happy enthusiasts have even devised a way to control their Roomba vacuum cleaners via the technology.

Tech analyst Michael Gartenberg said he believes consumers will eventually expect the technology in all their devices. "The beauty of Bluetooth is, the more devices that have it, the more reasons you're going to have to want to use it," he said.

Gartenberg said that the market for Bluetooth has been greatly helped by the fact that the consortium of consumer electronics companies that devised the technology has simplified the process for pairing up two Bluetooth-enabled devices over the years.

Another update of the Bluetooth specification, designed to further simplify its usage, is on the way. The next update, scheduled for release early next year, should extend battery life by five times.

As with every nascent technology, the latest convenience also brings the latest security hazard. Some hackers have started figuring out ways to eavesdrop on the wireless connections between Bluetooth-connected gadgets, through a process that falls under the buzzword "bluesnarfing."

But don't worry. The intrusions haven't become too widespread -- yet.