Peripheral Vision: High-Tech Computer Keyboards, Mice & Speakers (cont.)

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An update to the Bluetooth connectivity standard is behind the resurgence. Bluetooth Smart was announced in 2010, and the first computer peripherals that included it hit the market in 2011. Errett Kroeter of Bluetooth SIG tells us that, thanks to the improved efficiency that the new standard requires, a typical Bluetooth mouse now “can run for a year or more on a coin cell battery.” Before, it might have lasted up to 2 months using AA batteries, he says.

RINSE AND REPEAT: Seal Shield is among the manufacturers that we found that make more of their products washable in the sink or in a dishwasher.

RINSE AND REPEAT: Seal Shield is among the manufacturers that we found that make more of their products washable in the sink or in a dishwasher.

Seal Shield

Bluetooth Smart also reduced the amount of time that it takes to pair, or join, a wireless keyboard or a wireless mouse with a computer, to 3 milliseconds from the 2 seconds that it took under the old standard, according to Kroeter. This reduced the amount of time that a mouse spends “waking up” after a period of inactivity, which also means that it drains less power from the battery.

Lee Ratliff, who is an analyst at market-research company IHS, says Bluetooth technology also has improved in terms of security. It used to be that, via crossed signals, somebody who was nearby and had another Bluetooth peripheral could pair with your computer. That’s no longer the case, Ratliff says.

Nevertheless, Baker doubts that Bluetooth will become dominant among wireless computer peripherals. “Not everything needs the bandwidth of a Bluetooth connection,” he says.

Ratliff agrees and adds that, although Bluetooth someday might catch up to the dominance of radio frequency (RF) in the wireless computer-peripherals market, no IHS forecasts predict Bluetooth to equal the sales of RF computer peripherals before 2018. That’s because manufacturers want to keep their proprietary RF technology, he says. (RF technology involves creating a secure wireless connection between a computer peripheral and a computer through the use of a USB receiver, also known as a dongle, which is smaller than a thumbnail.)

Ratliff says manufacturers prefer RF technology, because an open standard, such as Bluetooth Smart, makes it so you could, say, buy a computer and a mouse that are from different brands. Ratliff says manufacturers prefer to lock consumers into their ecosystem of products. Also, RF technology is less expensive to incorporate into a computer peripheral than Bluetooth is. Consequently, computer peripherals that use RF typically are less expensive for consumers. Bluetooth mice start at $19.99, which is $5 more than the entry price for an RF mouse. On average, Bluetooth mice are about $15 more expensive than RF mice are. Meanwhile, RF keyboards, on average, are about $20 less expensive than are their Bluetooth counterparts. Analysts expect these price gaps to narrow in the coming years.

Beyond Bluetooth, battery life in general seems to be improving. It now is common to find manufacturers that advertise up to 3 years of battery life out of AA and AAA batteries, compared with half of that lifespan previously. Marcel Brown, who is an independent technology consultant, says manufacturers are making their products more energy-efficient by using new materials, which can extend the life of batteries. Hewlett-Packard tells us that all new electronics are designed to use less power to stay competitive. However, Brown recommends that you take manufacturers’ claims about battery life with a grain of salt. He says that in some cases, the maximum lifespan might require the purchase of lithium or other high-performance (read: higher priced) versions of AA and AAA disposable batteries instead of conventional versions.

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