'Most new phones and handhelds now have Bluetooth built in. But what use is it other than for show-offs?'

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One of my favourite cartoons comes from The New Yorker. It shows two pilots in a cockpit; the pilot on the left is sitting back from the controls, wearing sunglasses and beaming. "This is so cool!" he says to the co-pilot. "I'm flying this thing entirely on my Palm!"

There's something about that mixture of uselessness and technological capability that I still find appealing, even though I'm old enough to know better. I like the idea of being able to do something trivial through a powerful application of technology. Sure, we can - or could - send men to the Moon, but right now I think I'd rather have a TV remote control.

When it comes to technologies whose uses aren't obvious, Bluetooth is king. We've been hearing about it for years: it's a wireless standard that works over distances of about 10 metres, intended to replace those tedious printer, keyboard and other cables that clog up desks. Most new phones and handhelds now have it built in. (Most owners of new phones also have no idea that it's turned on by default, so they're running their batteries down unnecessarily.)

Most computers don't have it, though. Microsoft hasn't added it to Windows XP yet, though independent software can do that job. Although Apple added Bluetooth functionality into OS X nearly a year ago, you'll still need Bluetooth hardware to plug into your PC. I got good results with the D-Link Adapter with OS X and Belkin's F8T001, which has two neat aspects: a little fold-out aerial, and a USB extender cable in case there's not enough room to attach the device directly to the USB port. The Belkin product comes with software for Windows XP, making up for that absence.

Perhaps you're thinking - so that's added the functionality, but what is there to do with it? The answer is that you can fly the plane (or at least control your computer) with it; and, don't forget, this is all without wires.

I found two applications for the different platforms - Windows XP and Mac OS X - which do almost identical tasks, although their origins (as far as I can tell) are completely divergent. For Windows, there's Jeyo (www.jeyo.com), which is from Japan; for the Mac, Salling Clicker (www.salling. com), from Sweden.

What they do is almost identical. (So is the price; they are both "shareware" costing about $15). Given a suitable Bluetooth-equipped phone, you can control all sorts of applications - the mouse on the screen, your MP3 player (WinAmp on Windows, iTunes or any "scriptable" player on the Apple), your Powerpoint or Keynote presentations...

That's not to say that it's all painless. Probably the last piece of life-changing technology that had no installation hassle was the remote control. In order to get the Jeyo program to work with your machine (and unless you're a masochist you'll download the manual - inexplicably, separate - as well), you have to do the following: "pair" your computer and your phone via Bluetooth; find out which notional COM port your Bluetooth phone is now connected to; and get Jeyo to agree with all this. More confusing is that when you click the Jeyo application, it initially just adds an icon to the right-hand side of the task bar, rather than opening a window. You can then think that nothing's happened and start multiple copies of the program going, which won't lessen your confusion if you're new to Bluetooth.

Instead, right-clicking on the Jeyo icon in the taskbar brings up a window where you can (if you've followed the manual) connect to your phone. Look at the Extras menu of your phone (though on my Ericsson T68i (above) it was called Connect). At the bottom is a list called Accessories, previously greyed-out but now active. Click that and there you are, in control of your machine. If it has a mini-joystick (as does the T68i) you can move the mouse around the screen, and choose items by clicking. You can control WinAmp - play, pause, skip - and a variety of other programs.

With Salling Clicker, everything feels easier. Once you've carried out your pairing there's no worrying about COM ports, and the program knows your phone's name and offers to "publish" its menu when you choose. You can also pick what should happen when your Bluetooth signal ends (say, because you go away from the machine: you could get the screensaver to begin) and when it restarts (perhaps you returned: the screensaver could go off). You can control iTunes, and even sort through its songs (finding, for example, all the songs or artists with "Ab" in their title and displaying them on the phone). Pick a song, press the joystick, and its title flashes up in large type on the computer screen.

But, you say, what use is all this? In some senses, not much at all. True, you can get Salling Clicker to trigger a "script" of commands (which can be very sophisticated, such as opening a website, digesting its contents and then sending an e-mail to your phone), but in general one suspects the biggest use will be for show-offs wanting a bit of one-upmanship in their next Powerpoint presentation. "I'm going to walk around the room and do this from my phone..."

Of course, given that Bluetooth uses a surprising amount of juice, it'll be no surprise if the screen control suddenly stops. Alternatively, when I was trying out Jeyo, with complete success, I got a phone call. You guessed it - the phone crashed. I lost the call and the Bluetooth connection. Happily, the computer was fine.