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Out of the Blue

A new technology called Wi-Fi Direct aims to put wires-and Bluetooth-on the great technological scrap heap.

Author Alyssa Giacobbe Illustration Gracia Lam

TO MANY, BLUETOOTH conjures images of unwieldy earpieces and loud talkers. But when the technology was developed in the mid-’90s, it was meant to have a much broader application than hands-free chatting. Bluetooth was supposed to eliminate not only the wires connecting cell phones to ear buds but those passing between all the other electronic devices in our lives: computers, cameras, headphones, robotic dogs.

As those knots of plastic spaghetti under our desks plainly demonstrate, it never happened. The problem is Bluetooth’s slow transfer rate and limited range, which render it too weak for many applications. That’s left the world with some decent wireless keyboards and mice, but the vast majority of electronics have remained tethered to each other like huskies at the Iditarod. Until now.

Wi-Fi Direct, a new technology poised to replace both Bluetooth and wires once and for all, was recently announced by the Wi-fiAlliance—an Austin, Texas–based trade group that manages the wide world of wireless and includes such industry heavyweights as Intel, Apple and Microsoft. It will allow wireless devices to connect to and share data with one another without the use of a common server or network.

What’s more, Wi-Fi Direct will be easy to use, operating on a peer-to-peer basis and requiring only a simple software update. “What we’ve done is applied garden-variety Wi-Fi technology to enable two client devices to talk to one another, print a picture, share a video game or display something on a flat-screen TV,” says Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director at Wi-Fi Alliance, adding that only one device, whether it’s your PlayStation or your printer, needs the software. That device will be able to automatically detect and sync with others within a 300-foot range. Built-in security measures would prevent you from unwittingly sharing intimate photos of your honeymoon with the guy two laptops down at Starbucks.

In development for a year, Wi-Fi Direct should be everywhere by the middle of 2010. Tech bloggers, meanwhile, are already hailing it as the Bluetooth we never knew. “Farewell, Bluetooth,” wrote Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz. “It was not a pleasure to meet you.”

ALYSSA GIACOBBE isn’t wearing a wireless headset. She’s talking to herself.

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