Matt Gemmell

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Bluetooth in Mac OS X

tech 5 min read

Up until less than a week ago, I'd never used any Bluetooth-capable device, much less made use of OS X's built-in 
Bluetooth features. Having recently acquired a new mobile phone with suitable abilities, I took the plunge and 
explored what OS X has to offer in terms of wireless synchronisation and file-exchange. Here's a brief tour of my 


The first thing to mention is the hardware I'm working with. I have an original series PowerBook G4 (15", 500Mhz G4), 
which of course doesn't have built-in Bluetooth. Hence, I bought the Apple-recommended <a href="" target="_blank">D-Link DBT-120</a> USB Bluetooth adapter 
(here's a local <a href="">pic of the adapter</a>). My mobile phone is a <a href="" target="_blank">Sony Ericsson Z600</a> (and here's a local <a href="">pic of the phone</a>). 
As is the usual situation with OS X, no additional hardware or software was necessary.


First experiences

Having enabled Bluetooth on my phone, I plugged in the D-Link adapter. Upon opening System Preferences, I noticed an enticing new icon:

Clicking the Bluetooth panel icon results in a three-tabbed interface, offering options to configure <a href="">Settings</a>, 
<a href="">File Exchange</a> and <a href="">Devices</a>. 
Clicking "Pair New Device" in the Devices pane allowed me to easily introduce the phone and computer to each other, and "pair" them. Pairing 
allows the devices to recognise each other when within range, and seamlessly make Bluetooth services available. The heart and key icons in 
the Devices pane indicate that my phone is a "favourite" device (i.e. will always show up in the initial list when selecting a device 
via Bluetooth File Exchange), and that a passkey is in effect to allow the devices to talk to each other (a basic password system).

I also noticed a new Bluetooth system menu icon in the menubar:

The "Set up Bluetooth Device" command launches the Bluetooth Setup Assistant, allowing you to scan for and pair with new devices. You 
can also configure what specific Bluetooth services you wish to make available using the device (of which more later). The "Open 
Bluetooth Preferences" option simply launches the Bluetooth pane of System Preferences. The two "Send File" and "Browse Device" options 
launch Bluetooth File Exchange, which we'll see in a moment. All in all, quite self-explanatory.

Seeing and recognising the device is all very well, but what I really wanted to do was exchange data. OS X makes it very easy to do so.


File Exchange

The primary reason I was interested in Bluetooth was for ease of exchanging files with my phone, including new ringtones and images. 
Once I'd paired my phone with the PowerBook, I chose the "Browse Device" command from the Bluetooth system menu. The following dialog 
is then displayed:

Having selected my phone and clicked Select, the standard Bluetooth file browsing dialog is displayed, allowing you to navigate 
your phone's directory structure, and upload or download files. The dialog supports drag and drop, as you'd expect.


I would have been satisfied with the file-exchange capabilities, but I imagine that most people really need synchronisation of 
contacts (from Address Book) and their calendars tasks and events (from iCal). iSync makes this very straightforward. After adding 
my phone to iSync (iSync recognises it automatically when you tell it to add a new device), this sync panel was added to my devices:

Normal iSync synchronisation policies and warnings apply to Bluetooth phones just the same as other devices, and everything works 
as expected. It even uses the correct icon for the phone automatically, which is nice and Mac-like.


Address Book Integration

Notwithstanding the ability to sync your Address Book contacts with your phone via iSync, there's plenty more Address Book Bluetooth 
integration functionality available. For all of the following, the Address Book application must be running, and obviously your 
phone must have Bluetooth enabled and be within range of the computer. The fun starts when you click the (newly visible) Bluetooth 
button in the Address Book window, to enable the integration.

Now the phone and the computer are talking to each other. Note that, for the purposes of getting these screenshots, I called my 
new phone from my old phone, which is why it seems to say that I'm calling myself. The next time you receive a phonecall, your 
Mac will know all about it, and will inform you:

The only option which isn't immediately obvious is "Log Call"; it simply puts a note of the call (with date/time stamp) into the 
Notes field of the caller's Address Book card. "Answer" causes the phone to pick up as normal. If you don't answer the call, 
either by letting it ring out or cancelling it on your phone itself, you'll see this dialog on your Mac:

A similar dialog is shown when receiving a text (SMS) message. In this context, the "Log Call" button logs the 
message content and the date/time to the sender's "Notes" field in Address Book.

This integration isn't one-way either; you can initiate calls or SMS messages (texts/txts) from Address Book too. Clicking on 
the mobile phone number of one of your contacts offers you the following options:

The SMS option (or choosing SMS Reply when receiving a phonecall, or choosing Reply when receiving a text) lets you type a 
text message to send via your phone, and even lets you know how many characters you have left in the current message:

Other functionality

Unsurprisingly, it's possible to connect to the net via your phone's GPRS data connection, but this isn't something I've tried 
yet so I can't really say more. It will of course be relatively low-speed, and will cost you whatever fee your network provider 
charges. It's probably not something I'd use myself except in emergencies, but it's good to know that it's there anyway. The 
Bluetooth Setup Assistant gives you the option of enabling net connections via GPRS when setting up a new device.

No mention of Bluetooth and mobile phones on OS X would be complete without a respectful nod towards <a href="" target="_blank">Salling Clicker</a>. 
It's just $10 for use with Sony Ericsson mobile phones, and it offers some truly amazing functionality, such as automatically pausing iTunes 
when you leave the vicinity of your computer and resuming when you return, automatically setting your iChat status to Away or On the Phone when 
you're physically away or taking a phonecall, remotely controlling your mouse-pointer via your phone, controlling PowerPoint or Keynote, 
and any number of other things. I bought my license for Clicker about an hour after first plugging in the Bluetooth adapter. Definitely visit 
the Salling site and read about what Clicker has to offer; it's an extremely cool piece of software, and great for showing to your PC friends.

Regarding resources for Bluetooth integration with OS X, try the <a href="" target="_blank">Apple Discussions site</a> (Networking &amp; Server Discussions -> Bluetooth). 
You might also visit the <a href="" target="_blank">Mobileburn Forums</a> for general mobile phone discussion and tips.


Closing thoughts

I've been extremely impressed with OS X's Bluetooth integration features, and haven't run into any problems at all. Your mileage may 
vary, of course, but generally I'd have to say that I think I really will make use of the synchonisation and Address Book features, 
as well as the file exchange which was my primary reason for looking into Bluetooth in the first place. OS X makes the whole experience 
very positive and effortless (though I suppose that it's also highly dependent on what model of phone you have; Sony Ericsson phones seem 
to play very nice indeed with OS X).

I'd highly recommend playing around with the Bluetooth integration functionality which OS X has to offer. I'd heartily 
recommend the Z600 phone too, if you're in the market for a new handset. For the moment, it's probably as close to an Apple 
mobile phone as we're going to get... ;)

Want the Apple logo desktop for your own phone? Grab it here (JPEG, 128x128 pixels; ideal for Sony Ericsson models).