The Borg, Lt. Uhura, and security guys wore them. People talked to themselves in public. Once upon a time, Bluetooth headsets were all the rage, filling mall kiosks and Best Buy stores. There were curving behind-the-ear loops, chrome blobs, and sleek black sticks like Apple’s. And it seemed that everyone who was anyone had a Bluetooth headset to accompany their new Blackberry or iPhone. How times have changed!
The wireless headset was the killer use for newfangled Bluetooth technology, back when it was a feature worth mentioning. Once a Bluetooth-equipped BlackBerry, Palm, or Nokia appeared, a headset was a must-have accessory to exploit this newfound wirelessness. Now you could leave your phone in your pocket and jabber in public, annoying passers-by and making yourself look like a crazy person!
And device makers responded with a proliferation of products. I had a Cardo Scala, renowned for its noise isolation technology but not really isolating much noise. And a Jawbone, with its iffy “bone conduction” technology that was little more than a rubber nub. And a tiny Motorola with a tinier cable. I think I left all of them in various taxi cabs.1
But a funny thing happened over the last decade. In 2009, Apple quietly discontinued its own Bluetooth Headset. A few years later, when every phone had Bluetooth, a glut of cheap headsets destroyed the profit in the space. Sales declined as buyers turned to Bose and Beats and sport earbuds. And the Bluetooth headset began to vanish.
Today, it’s difficult to locate a Bluetooth headset in a store, even one focused on electronics and mobile phones. My local Best Buy carries just four models, and they’re stuck in the back corner.2 I stopped into an airport electronics store and found not a single Bluetooth headset for sale, though they had dozens of other portable audio and Bluetooth-connected products.
The companies have moved on, too. Go to the web site of Jawbone or Jabra or Cardo or Plantronics and you won’t see a Bluetooth headset. You have to dig past the exercise bands, sports earbuds, and specialty communications systems to find them. They’re still part of their lineup, but these companies seem to have accepted the new reality of that market.
Some people still love their headsets. I see them permanently stuck in the ears of the same guys who have Oakley sunglasses seemingly glued to their baseball caps. And they remain a staple in call centers and similar “on the phone all day” professions. But a Bluetooth headset is definitely not the aspirational tech jewelry it once was!