Palm looks for Bluetooth bite with kit

Only a year ago, there was a lot of hype and hoopla surrounding the “next wave” of wireless technology that would change the way people communicate forever. Bluetooth was its name, and before long, it appeared as though there was definitely much ado about nothing as the excitement over the protocol seemed to fizzle just as fast as it sparked.

But today there exists some Bluetooth buzz yet again, this time with potentially concrete solutions in the works.

Last month, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc. introduced a beta Bluetooth software developer kit (SDK) for the Palm OS platform. The company said that the SDK will allow Palm partners and software developers to accelerate development of Bluetooth-compatible programs.

The SDK is available to Palm OS developers as a free download at, and offers a complete Bluetooth software solution, including the certified Palm Bluetooth 1.1-compatible stack, Palm Bluetooth API, configuration tools and sample code.

Still, questions remain about the viability of the wireless technology, and when – if ever – Bluetooth will become mainstream.

“A lot of the goals that were entertained (last year) were pretty lofty,” said Mark Quigley, research manager with Kanata, Ont.-based The Yankee Group in Canada. “Companies weren’t talking about things that were simple and made practical sense. There was a lot of talk about, if you were walking down the street with your Bluetooth-enabled Walkman, you’d be able to download the latest songs from whoever, along with a coupon to go and buy it. That is interesting and great, but it is not really a practical application. I don’t think there is a terrible amount of interest in those kinds of consumer-facing things at the present.”

But, according to Palm Canada President and GM Michael Moscowitz, the focus on Bluetooth has promise and is all part of Palm’s vision.

“We believe that Bluetooth is a technology that is going to enhance our vision of this wireless connectivity between devices,” Moscowitz said. “(With Bluetooth) it is a personal area network that is high-bandwidth, low-cost and low power consumption, and ideal for mobile types of technology such as Palm. We believe that within this wireless world it is a very easy technology to integrate and it has support for numerous companies.”

Moscowitz added that by releasing the SDK, Palm is proving it is supporting its developer community. “By offering this SDK we are acting as a catalyst.”

And, in addition to delivering software tools, Palm said it is working with hardware manufacturers such as TDK Systems to provide compatible hardware development kits (HDKs). According to TDK’s Dave Curl, marketing communications manager in London, England, the company’s Bluetooth hardware development kit was created in conjunction with Palm.

“The kit allows Bluetooth applications being developed on the Palm platform, using the Palm Bluetooth software stack, to be evaluated rapidly using TDK Systems’ certified Bluetooth hardware,” Curl said.

He said the hardware kit consist of a hub and, in its simplest form, two TDK USB adapters.

“The short version of the story is when Palm applications are developed, they are developed on the PC platform using an emulation of a Palm. Our development kits allow these developing applications to be evaluated and tested as if the Palm devices were really Bluetooth-equipped. It also means that the software application running on the emulated Palm can be verified before it reaches the complicated hardware development stage.”

TDK Systems has developed two clip-on devices, dubbed blueM and blue5, which the company said offer Bluetooth connectivity.

Still, Quigley remained skeptical of the latest push for Bluetooth. He said that the idea of having the entire planet networked is a good one, but unless companies like Palm and TDK can prove the relevance of the technology, Quigley does not see a real point to it.

“Part of the problem is that there are not a lot of Bluetooth-ready devices in the hands of people,” Quigley said. “It has to be put in the context of, this is what we are doing, this is where it is, and this is how it is going to facilitate something beyond me buying a Pepsi with my cell phone.”

Quigley acknowledged that Palm is pushing the protocol’s development, but questioned what form that effort was taking.

“[Advocating Bluetooth] is not a risk (for Palm) because they have a whole community of thousands of developers who design applications for Palm. It makes absolute sense for them to make sure they are exploring this. (But) at the end of the day, they are not making a tremendous investment.”