Bluetooth Headsets for Cellphones Finally Small, Affordable

PHOTO: Jawbone bluetooth earpiece

Once a novel and noticeable protrusion emanating from the ear, Bluetooth headsets have become small, sleek, and not so expensive. According to NPD's Mobile Phone Accessories Tracker, the average price of a Bluetooth headset in Q1 was $51.58, and prices have held relatively steady over the past three years.

To maintain differentiation, headset companies have now turned to smartphone software to add features that could be awkward or difficult to fit on the limited real estate available on most headsets. Here's what some of the Bluetooth boosters are doing with bits:

BlueAnt Wireless. BlueAnt's app, available for Android handsets, is a pretty straightforward app that helps with setup and usage tips for use with BluAnt's rugged T1 headset. The headset, though, already provides voice instructions for setting up Bluetooth support, which are a bit out of whack with those in the app. Once connected, the app allows you to check for updates; plus, it contains a guide to the various voice commands supported by the headset. The app can also read back SMS messages over the headset at various speeds.

Jawbone. Jawbone cut its client software teeth with MyTalk, a Web site that worked in conjunction with PC software that allows users to personalize the headset. Jawbone users can use MyTalk to change what the main headset but does as well as the "personality" used to update you on things such as talk time. For example, if a user chooses "The Ace" vocal personality, a confident female voice tells you, "I'm activated, ready for action."

Jawbone has followed up with Thoughts, which is a nicely designed iPhone app that lets you record audio messages and send them off to your contacts using e-mail, phone and a variety of other means. Thoughts can also send messages to a group of contacts created within the app, plus transcribe voice messages for text delivery via a service. The service allows ten message transcriptions before requiring users to purchase more. This handy and free app works with any Bluetooth headset; in fact, it doesn't even require a headset, and it can work when the phone is used normally without the headset or with speakerphone.

Sound ID. The most intriguing and integrated app companion for a headset is EarPrint from Sound ID. EarPrint, which is available free for the iPhone and Android headsets, is a collection of utilities -- several of which are unique.

For example, one part of the software lets you customize the audio output of the headset by tapping at various points around the handset's screen. Another is a button that allows the user to find a mislaid headset by having it beep very loudly. (You'd probably have to be in the same room to track it down, though.) EarPrint is limited to the company's flagship headset and requires the latest version of the headset's firmware to be installed before using.

Plantronics. Like Jawbone, Plantronics, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, hasn't tied its smartphone consumer software to its own headsets; it has, however, done the most to tie it to revenue by charging for its apps.

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