Blog Post

Let’s Cut the Cord on Proprietary Wireless Adapters

When I started to write this post, it was going to share news about Microsoft’s (s msft) newest BlueTrack Technology mouse offerings. I swear it was, because Microsoft makes a good mouse. I planned to tell you that either the new smaller Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 or Wireless Mouse 2000 will set you back $29.95. That’s a great price for a mouse that needs no pad. But I’m not going to focus on any of that since you can read the press release here. Instead — and I really don’t mean to make Microsoft an example because there are plenty of other culprits — I’m going to focus on three words: proprietary, wireless and adapter. If it were up to me, I’d never hear or say those three words in succession again when talking about modern day computing devices.

Last I checked, the calendar said the year was 2010. We’ve had a pretty solid and useful wireless standard in the form of Bluetooth 2.0 which the Bluetooth SIG adopted in 2004, so why do companies still take it upon themselves to add unnecessary wireless adapters to products? Yes, I realize I’m ranting a little here and you’re probably thinking, “what’s the big deal as long as it works?” If you’re asking that question, you probably haven’t used a mobile device that has a limited number of USB ports. I have, and I simply don’t want to clog up a USB port needlessly for a mouse. I have 3G adapters, flash drives, portable external USB hard drives, phones and cameras that I’d rather — or must — use with those ports. Why bother having a perfectly standard Bluetooth radio in devices if we’re not going to use them? It’s not like Bluetooth is a new, unproven technology or not readily offered in mobile devices.

Simply put, there’s no reason — technical or otherwise — that wireless peripherals like a mouse should only be supported by proprietary wireless means. I’m not suggesting the approach is totally killed off because I realize that most desktops and some laptops don’t offer Bluetooth. But it’s 2010 folks — let’s at least make the proprietary approach secondary to the widely recognized standards solutions. And I hate to point this out, because it’s just an example, but out of the 13 wireless mice currently offered on Microsoft’s Hardware site, only three use a standard Bluetooth connection, while the other 10 require a special USB transceiver. It’s time to pull the plug on this wireless waste.

Image courtesy of Microsoft

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19 Responses to “Let’s Cut the Cord on Proprietary Wireless Adapters”

  1. As someone else mentioned, I think the prime reasons come down to COST (to the end-consumer), and efficiency. But on the flip side, there will always be those gadget-heads like you and me who specifically see that as a selling point, and are willing to pay the extra for the bluetooth convenience, and take the (possible) penalties of the power inefficiency…

  2. I’ve used a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard with my office and home PCs for years. The convenience of having one radio for the keyboard and mouse as well as a headset for VoIP calls, playing music as well syncing my phone is far better than can be delivered by a proprietary technology.

    Bluetooth penetration in laptops is forecast to be approximately 60% in 2010. I expect that to continue to rise. Unfortunately, today Bluetooth integrated in desktop PCs is virtually non-existent. However, I think that is going to change. The specifications finally have all the necessary items to overcome all the issues raised on this thread. Simple pairing addresses ease of use. Fast connect addresses latency. Sniff subrating (and other enhancements) address battery life. These along with economies of scale resulting from approximately 3B Bluetooth radios being developed and optimized silicon specifically for the HID market address the cost issue. I know of multiple members of the Bluetooth SIG that are combining all these enhancements into products which you’ll see later this year. The goal of that effort is to have Bluetooth shipped standard in desktop PCs as well as laptops.

  3. Kevin – You’ve touched a nerve here, and for good reason. I picked up an arc mouse about 6 months ago, but before I did I looked all over for something as small and compact, but w/o yet another adapter. Manufactures need to start bundling their devices with bluetooth adapters. You can buy one a small – or smaller than the one bundled with the Arc mouse for a couple of bucks. No excuse not to use this technology. It eliminates the argument that not everything has integrated bluetooth.

    I ended up with the Arc mouse and it’s adapter because it was the most portable mouse out there, despite its adapter.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly, but the other side of the problem is that manufacturers seem to have a love-hate relationship with bluetooth radios for some reason. I see very few laptops/netbooks with embedded bluetooth radios. My Toshiba netbook (NB205) has one but now the new NB305’s DON’T. Why not? Some mainstream noteboks have them. but again, most don’t. I think it’s a damn shame. I use my netbook bluetooth with headphones, headsets, cellphones (sync and tethering) but am holding off on a mouse because so few are BT-compatible. In short, lack of universal BlueTooh adaptability has been it’s Achillese heel after what, 6 years. It’s a teriffic short-range standard, and I can only hope and pray that now with Wi-Fi interoperability in the new 3.0 standard, that it becomes universally integrated with wi-fi cards before the end of the year.

  5. The other issue that I’ve had is that BT is notoriously finicky on Windows, even 7. The inconsistent BT stacks, the difficulty in getting devices reconnected after sleeping and waking up and, let’s not forget, the lack of low-level (read: BIOS) support for BT has meant that it’s nigh impossible to get connected, stay connected, and remain connected. I’d love it if BT was built into the BIOS, like it is in Apple’s implementation of EFI, but until that happens, I will hang on to my proprietary RF connectors.

  6. Mmmm used to root for this approach, but after playing around with various funky OSes (and devices like SmartQ7) a dongle tricks the computer that it’s a normal wired mouse, without having to do the bluetooth pairing (which can get funky). Also, you can hot plug the dongle whenever you’d like without having to re-pair (some BT mice need this).

  7. I remember skimming through the proposed Bluetooth specs years ago and wondering why the heck it was so complicated. Microsoft didn’t help any by making Bluetooth so finicky on Windows XP–far worse than the USB experience with Windows 95 OEMSR2+USBSUPP.

  8. As a long time user (5+ years) of multiple (4+) bluetooth and no-BT wireless mice and keyboards, I can definitely chime on the fact that the convenience of non-BT in addition to the greater battery life is just unbeatable. I can switch between my MAC, Linux and Windows and use the same mouse and keyboard – which doing through bluetooth technology is a huge pain in the butt.

    After trying bluetooth at a premium cost for several years, I have now converted to no-BT solutions.

    My 2 cents :)

  9. I pondered on this same question a while ago when writing an article about trackballs, and their lack of coverage by the tech press. The only wireless trackball I’ve known of so far requires a fairly big wireless dongle to be plugged into a USB port with a long cable – obviously designed for a desktop PC, forget practicality with a notebook while on the go.

    When compared to the above, I’d honestly be happy to see a trackball using a wireless dongle like I’ve seen with those MS and Logitech mice, since I can spare a USB port on my machine. But Kevin’s argument is valid – why use a USB port when BT has been standard for so many years. On a netbook with only 2 USB ports, BT connectivity is golden!

    Trackballs are actually better suited for netbooks/notebooks than mice because they don’t require a flat surface to work, and because they don’t move, take up much less space to work. While I’ve carried my corded USB trackball around with me when using my notebook, I would be the first to plunk down $100 for a true bluetooth version. There, I said it!

    The Logitech Trackman Wheel that I use has been selling in the same format for over 6 years now – it’s time to make a BT model. Get with the times Logitech!

  10. I agree but it’s problematic for hardware makers. The idea of a wireless mouse is easy to grasp, but not many people know what bluetooth is, so not many would buy it and some of those would buy it for desktops without bluetooth by mistake. Even as I write, bluetooth is underlined because it’s not recognized as a word.

    A good compromise would be a bluetooth mouse together with a bluetooth usb adapter.

  11. Scoopster

    The better question (instead of asking for BT everything) might be to ask why didn’t computer vendors start putting a standard 2.4Ghz transceiver with industry-standard (license-free) protocol in computers a decade ago. A simple simultaneous pairing button would allow you to pair any device at any time.

    (oh, the answer probably lies in my own text…I said “industry standard” … which takes, oh, about a decade, so you’re right, now we have a standard [BT] that is costly and less power efficient….thus no one really wants to use it!)

    • You know… I’ve had similar thoughts. You’d think a semi-generic 2.4GHz (or other open frequency) transciever could be implemented, even without a ‘standard’, but allow each manufacturer to have a driver which would thread to this and then, in turn, support their own device (along with others).

  12. Scoopster

    Hi Kevin, As a hardware developer, I’ll tell you that the answer is 2 (or two and a half) fold:

    1. Cost: Bluetooth radios cost 2-3x what those standard 2.4GHz radios cost. This means a difference of $10 or more at retail.

    2. Power: non-bluetooth RF solutions are still lower power. The gap is closing, but you’re seeing non-BT mice with more than 1 year of battery life now. Can’t get even close with BT yet.

    2.5. Ease of use: standard 2.4GHz is completely plug and play — no need to interact with a single Windows dialog box when setting up that mouse the first time. This ease of use relates back to cost — grandma-proof plug-n-play means far fewer support calls and far fewer product returns, which drive up costs for the brand (e.g. Microsoft) as well as retailers (e.g Best Buy).

    • I also have some experience in developing wireless products, and I second Scoopster’s 2.5 reasons and add reason 1.5, which is addressable market. Not all computers have an integrated bluetooth receiver, so to ensure the maximum addressable market, both ends of the wireless link must be supplied in the box. This is a double-whammy for the bluetooth solution due to it’s inherent cost disadvantages.

      Regarding integrated circuit cost, note that cost of production is largely driven by die size. A more complex radio (bluetooth) = larger die size = fewer chips/wafer = higher production cost.

  13. Thank you! I’ve been wondering that same thing for a few years now. This doesn’t only apply to mobile mice either. I was in the market for a great mouse for my desktop and the ones with features that appealed to me all came with a proprietary receiver. I finally gave in and settled on the Logitech MX Revolution, but hate the fact that I can’t just connect it using Bluetooth. It’s for that reason that I love my MS Notebook Mouse 5000 because I can just connect it to my laptop via Bluetooth at any moment without having to worry about a receiver. While we’re on the topic, where are the Bluetooth 10-key pads?